The Burren, Cliffs of Moher, matchmaking town of Lisdoonvarna and Lahinch Beach
August 6, 2010
So… what exactly is The Burren? Unlike most of the other sites we’ve visited during our journey through Ireland, this is one I’d never heard of before. It’s easy to drive through without really knowing what you’re looking at.
According to myguideireland.com, “the Burren, situated in north-west County Clare, covers over 300 square kilometres and is of extreme importance to geologists, botanists and archaeologists from Ireland and beyond. As the largest karstic limestone area in Western Europe, the Burren is an anomaly in the Irish landscape and continues to fascinate geologists who come to study its limestone patterns, underground rivers and grykes (cracks). The Burren is home to rare alpine plants, gentians, mountain avens and maidenhair ferns, amongst others. Those interested in the ancient history of Ireland will find a wealth of material in the Burren – megalithic tombs, Celtic crosses, a ruined Cistercian Abbey and more than sixty wedge tombs. Walkers on the Burren enjoy a route along dry, hard limestone paths with spectacular views north towards the Aran Islands and Galway Bay.”
Our guide, Michael O’Connor, stopped the bus for us so that we could climb over the rocks and take stunning pictures of the Atlantic Ocean and of the Aran Islands, which we will be visiting tomorrow. It was a bit windy and chilly up on the hillsides and we pulled our jackets more tightly around us as we clamored over rocks and posed for each other’s cameras. THIS is what we pictured when we pictured Ireland. Fields of greenery, natural landscape, and of course, cows and sheep. I feel confident speaking for everyone to say we all enjoyed it.
On the way there, we passed through the famous matchmaking town of Lisdoonvarna. According to MatchmakerIreland.com, the name Lisdoonvarna comes from ‘Lios Duin Bhearna’, which means the lios or enclosure of the fort in the gap. The town developed into a tourist centre as early as the middle of the 18th-century as people traveled to bathe in and drink the healing mineral water there. Rich in iron, sulphur and magnesium, the waters were said to give relief from the symptoms of certain diseases, including rheumatism and glandular fever. So many people were going there that a tradition of matchmaking couples sprang out of it. In October, there is a big annual matchmaking festival there. I bet that’s a sight to see.
Then on we traveled to the Cliffs of Moher. The pictures I Googled did not prepare me for the breath-taking beauty of the cliffs. When we first drove up, it was difficult to fully appreciate them. But once we climbed the steep stair walkway to the top of the cliffs, it was mind-blowing. The cliffs are steep, treacherous beauties of rock, plant life and wildlife. When you look over the barriers into the Atlantic, you can see the tides rushing to the base of the cliffs and crashing against the rocks, spitting up white foam and salty water. At the top of one side of the cliffs is O’Brien’s tower, built in 1835 by Cornelius O’Brien as a viewing point for visitors who flocked to the cliffs. Castle-like, it stands guard over the cliffs, 175 years of history of watching people from all over the world gaze in wonder at the natural beauty of the Cliffs of Moher.
The wind was very chilly and tried to rip the jackets and scarves off of our bodies. As you ascended higher onto the cliffs, the force of the wind moved you sidewalks and even holding up a camera for a quick picture was sometimes a struggle. On the cliffs opposite O’Brien’s Tower, you can only traverse so far before being warned about the dangers of the cliff eroding and careening down into the frothy and freezing ocean waters. And like many young rebels before us, we ventured over to the edges. We didn’t come this far to have regrets. And none of us were lost to the Atlantic.
On our way back, we made an unscheduled trip to Lahinch Beach. It has a gorgeous rocky coastline and a chilling temperature, very unlike our hot, sandy beaches. Laura bravely took off her shoes to dip her feet into the freezing waters as the waves crashed up against the walkway and surfers skillfully hopped on their surfboards in the distance.
Lahinch is a blue flag beach, a voluntary eco-label awarded to over 3,450 beaches and marinas in 41 countries across Europe, South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada and the Caribbean. It’s awarded to clean safe beaches by the independent non-profit organisation Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE). Dr. Rick Wilber pointed it out to me and explained why it was flying so proudly against the overcast sky.
On my way back to the bus, I caught three young, female surfers dressed in wet suits gazing out into the water, obviously enjoying the site. They had taken a two hour trip from West Meath, Ireland to surf here. Rebecca Doolin, Muireann Rygh (her first name means “of the sea”- how appropriate) and Orla Connaughton took the time to chat with me and grab a surfboard, courtesy of Ben’s Surf Clinic, to pose with.