A trip to the Burren National Park three weeks ago had promised much with towering rain clouds and cushiony light sweeping across the remote, rocky landscape land throughout the early morning. By afternoon all had dissipated and moved southward and I thought I was to be denied a reasonable photograph.
Little cloud cover meant no drama above the vast waters of the Atlantic ocean, and it made me pack my bags and retreat back to the coast where the imposing Cliffs of Moher are located.
It is impossible to convey the scale and magnificence of the 700 ft sedimentary rock layers that make up the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, especially from the bottom of its base. My answer in capturing photos of it was only to hint at its sheer size.
Two hikers departed the coast shortly after I arrived at the cliff edge leaving me as a sole witness to capture the unfolding scene.
The warm spring sunshine was brushing over the verdant fields occupied by cuddly lambs clinging to their mother’s side. The soft light illuminated sea pinks swaying gently at my feet while leaving the cliff face concealed in a cool shadow.
The waves were rolling in and sending water way up high in the rocks below only to fall back into the churning sea. A refreshing ocean breeze swirled around me as I soaked up the relaxing rhythm of continuous lapping waves.
Yes, after a miserable year and a half where we had to alternate between lockdowns and new outbreaks and after nearly five-month in a very strict lockdown, we can finally explore Ireland again.
With travel restrictions easing, we decided to escape Yeats County at the first opportunity and drive all the way to a place that is home to one of the most unusual natural landscapes in Ireland – Burren National Park.
Stretching across northern Clare, from the Atlantic coast to a small stone harbour of Kinvara in County Galway, the Burren is an amazing place of limestone pavements and calcareous grasslands that was formed beneath ancient seas, totally different from the grassy fields you’d normally associate with Ireland.
The road to the park which dates back over 350 million years, took us through blooming countryside covered with sleepy villages before we came face to face with its dramatic and barren appearance.
Getting to the park and around
Nestled in the south-eastern corner of Burren, Burren National Park showcases 150 hectares of the marvellous landscape featuring an abundance of scenic marvels adding to the experience of each and every visitor. The funny thing is, every way into Burren National Park is a scenic route—although some are more popular than others.
From Corofin, head northwest on Main St/R476 toward Killinaboy. In Killinaboy take the first right turn (L1112) before the ruins of the sixteenth-century church. Approximately 5 km along this road you will reach a crossroads. There is a lay-by just before this crossroads (Gortlecka Crossroads) on the right – you can park here.
Please Note: Parking is restricted to lay-bys and roadside. As there is no designated car park there are no signs to direct visitors to the National Park.
The easiest way to get to the park is by car, and the biggest town in County Clare is Ennis with access to car rentals (if you don’t have your own already), but during the summer months, visitors can avail themselves of the free Burren National Park Bus Service.
By Air | Airport serving Ennis and County Clare is Shannon Airport and there are usually regular flights to Shannon Airport from many international destinations.
By Rail | The Western Rail Corridor train service connects Ennis and Sixmilebridge in County Clare with towns in nearby Galway.
The Burren Loop | is a very simple route to follow if you wish to drive around the area. It is one of the finest driving routes that the country has to offer taking in various towns, villages, Burren National Park and the Cliffs of Moher.
What to do at the Burren National Park?
There are more things to do at the park than you might expect. Minimal light pollution allows for a clear dark sky, which is ideal for stargazing and night-time photography.
West of the Burren National Park is the world-famous cliffs of Moher with more coastal trails, traditional pubs and amazing photo opportunities. Burren is also one of the best places for hiking in Clare and visitors to the Burren can go on numerous walks and learn how limestone was formed over 20 million years ago.
Go hiking and explore the trails
One of the more rewarding ways to see the park is on foot. Burren features a wide variety of hikes from short walks that are suitable for all ages to three-hour hikes into some of the remote sections of the park.
In total, there are seven way-marked hiking trails in the Burren National Park and Slieve Carran Nature Reserve and each of them are signposted with colour-coded markers. Make sure you choose a trail that suits your fitness level and always bring appropriate footwear due to the uneven and in places steep limestone landscape.
White Arrow Route (Nature Trail) – a 1.5km looped walk that’s ideal for hikers of all abilities that offers beautiful views of Mullaghmore and Lough Gealáin. As the terrain on this walk is quite rough with loose rock and can be slippery after bad weather, allow 40 minutes or more to complete the loop.
Green Route (Mullaghmore Return) – the 6.5km trail passes through large open areas of limestone pavement. The accent of the trail is 140 metres and takes up to 3 hours to complete.
Blue Route (Mullaghmore Loop) – the park is home to Lough Gealáin, a turlough fed by underground springs that run through the park’s limestone which you can see by undertaking the most challenging marked trail Mullaghmore Loop. A 7.5km walk which loops around the summit of Mullaghmore mountain, should only be undertaken by experienced hikers.
*Our Crossings tip – a free interactive app of the Burren National Park Nature Trail is available to download for the iPhone and iPad on the App Store or the iTunes store.
Go on a photography adventure
As one of the finest examples of a Glacio-Karst landscape in the world, Burren National Park is a paradise for photographers. Under conditions of constantly shifting light, the white rock landscape provides limitless photographic opportunities. Low sun angles at sunrise and sunset can add brilliant colour to the limestone rocks, so make sure you time your photo trip accordingly.
As the landscape here changes all year round, from multicoloured floral carpets in late Spring to verdant grass for the cattle to graze in late Autumn,
Use a good weather app and visit your chosen photo spots when the weather suits the location. Don’t be intimidated by the changing Irish weather as dark clouds and low-lying mist can often produce a dramatic setting. The most ravishing light known as the ‘golden hour’ often comes alive in the early mornings and late in the evenings.
See the Poulnabrone Dolmen
Poulnabrone Dolmen, a gem of an archaeological monument built by Neolithic farmers, really embodies the mystical beauty of Ireland.
When the site was excavated by archaeologist Anne Lynch in 1986 and again in 1988, around 21 human remains of which 16 were adults and 5 were children, along with several utensils, tools and items of jewellery were discovered in the main tomb chamber just 25 cm below the surface.
Although the monument has revealed a wealth of valuable information about the lives and burial customs of Ireland’s very first farming communities, researchers still don’t know why or how those individuals were chosen as age and gender didn’t applier to be a factor. There also was no evidence of genetic kinship between the individuals.
There are a few theories, some of which suggest that people placed in a tomb were either spiritual ancestors or were buried there due to the way they died. Either way, we can only guess.
There was, however, one interesting fact discovered about the early farmers of Burren – they all had very good teeth. In fact, of the 585 adult teeth found in the tomb, only one had tooth decay.
Marvel at its unique flora and fauna
In addition to relics of ancient civilisations, Burren National Park is also known for its unique and rich combination of Mediterranean and Arctic-Alpine flora.
Despite the Burren’s harsh appearance, there are plenty of plants that grow between the rocks. Make sure you keep an eye on the Burren’s limestone pavement where spring gems such as mountain avens and fen violets, and rare ferns in gullies are flourishing.
The Burren is home to 80% of Ireland’s butterflies and over 75% of all plant species in Ireland. Of the twenty-seven orchid species that are native to the Emerald Isle, twenty-five of them are found in the Burren including dense-flowered orchid, early-purple orchid, common spotted orchid, fragrant orchid, fly-orchid, bee-orchid, frog orchid, lesser butterfly orchid and autumn lady’s tresses.
Things to know before you go
The Burren’s name | derives from the Irish word boireann, meaning ‘stony place’.
Come prepared for all kinds of weather | One of the most important items you can bring is waterproof boots and a jacket. The wind can be cold and biting and the trails can be muddy in wet conditions. If you plan on exploring the coast as well, then bring windproof layers as the ocean brings powerful winds.
Essentials checklist | Sun hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses. Insect repellent. Day pack with comfortable straps. Route map or trail guide.
Stick To Trails | With such a variety of trails there’s no need to venture beyond or use shortcuts. By staying on designated trails, roads, routes and trails at all times you are helping natural areas stay natural.
Leave it as you found it | Treat all living things with respect. Leave rocks, plants and flowers as you found them for other visitors to enjoy.
Stay hydrated | Bring reusable water bottles or hot drink tumblers to limit waste and stay hydrated.
Entrance fee | The Burren National Park is open all year round and is free to access. The park can be busy between June and October, and if you want to avoid crowds, we recommend visiting in the morning.
Drone usage | The NPWS does not allow the usage of drones on their properties unless specific permission has been granted to do so.
Food | Please note that food is not available within the park. There are no cafes, restaurants or souvenir shops. Make sure you bring plenty of water and food with you. The closest restaurants and shops are either in the town of Lahinch.
The Burren National Park Information Point in Corofin is open seasonally from April to September.
Other things to do nearby the park
Overflowing with natural wonders, outdoor activities, culture, and authentic eats, there’s no shortage of things to do in County Clare. All within a few hours, you can catch a few waves, see the largest stalactite in Europe, gawk at the 700-foot cliff face, have a pint in a quaint town of Doolin and still make it back to your lodging by sunset for some unfiltered rest and relaxation.
Here are a few extra things you should do if you have spare time:
Cliffs of Moher | One of many places that are not to be missed in Ireland is the Cliffs of Moher. Rising to 700 feet just North at O’Brian’s Tower, the cliffs are a nature spotting heaven. Home to large numbers of Guillemot and Razorbills as well as Peregrine Falcon, Kittiwake, Fula]mar and Atlantic puffin this is a significant area of importance for bird species.
Aran Islands | venture out to the islands of Inishmõre, Irishman or the smallest of the islands; Inisheer to see their natural beauty and learn about deep-rooted mythology. It takes around half an hour to cover the 8km to Inisheer and should cost about EOR 20-25 return
Loop Head | the ruggedly beautiful Loop Head drive offers visitors quiet coves, sandy strands and dramatic coastal views. On a clear day, you could even see Dingle Peninsula, the Aran Islands and Galway Bay. A working lighthouse, complete with Fresnel lens is located right at the end of Loop Head Peninsula
Doolin | Back in the 1960s, thanks to the reputation of a bachelor farmer Micho Russell who was a singer, whistle and flute player, Doolin developed a reputation for its traditional music. People started visiting Doolin to hear Micho and his two brothers playing. Today, tourists flock to the small village to have a pint in one of its pubs.
… … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … …
Now, over to you!
Have you been to Burren National Park? Let us know in the comments below!
Let us know if you are plotting a visit to County Clare and have travel-related questions!