Ireland’s great outdoor museum

Kilfenora Cathedral

Kilfenora Cathedral

The Burren name comes from the Irish word “An Bhoireann” which means a place of stone.

The omnipresent stone-built monuments which abound in the Burren whisper of a civilization whose architecture was ancient by the time the Egyptian pyramids at Gisa were even conceived.

Farming practices such as winter grazing on the limestone hills and the keeping of goat herds have helped to shape the immense variety of building styles found in the stone architecture of the Burren hills.

What further highlights the role of the farmer here as custodian our Irish heritage is that the highest concentration of wedge tombs in the country are found in the good winter grazing of the Burren uplands.

St Colmans Well

St Colman’s Well lying on the slopes above Oughtmama Valley which rolls down to the Atlantic, has remained a tranquil place of spiritual retreat down through the ages.

There are approximately 6,000 national monuments in County Clare, the vast majority of these located in the Burren.

One quarter of all the known megalithic wedge tombs in Ireland are situated in this region. One of the most iconic Irish images – and the single most photographed monument in the country – is Poulnabrone.

This megalithic grave was also probably a site of deep spiritual significance to those who built it. The portal stone of this tomb is aligned towards the rising sun.

This is an architectural characteristic of portal tombs whereas the later wedge tombs such as at nearby Gleninsheen are aligned towards the setting sun.

Gleninsheen Gorget

Gleninsheen Gorget

One of Ireland’s great national treasures, the Gleninsheen Gold Collar was discovered near here in 1932.

The well preserved stone built ring fort, Caherconnell, Parknabinnia, Ballykinvarga fort, and Cahercommaun, with its dramatic, stunning vistas overlooking the Burren are fine visual vestiges of the ancient past.

Cahercommaun is not just one of the finest archaeological attractions in the country but also the largest inland cliff fort. The Burren Centre in Kilfenora provides a superb three dimensional interpretation of this site. If there are many remains of early pagan beliefs here, there is also a wonderful abundance of ancient sites and buildings bearing testimony to Christianity in the Burren.

In the north, lies the twelfth century Corcomroe Abbey, also known as Sancta Maria de Petra Fertilis, Holy Mary of the Fertile Rock. At Kilnaboy Church there is the only example in the whole of northwestern Europe of a double-armed cross built into a west gable.

Lorraine Cross

Lorraine Cross

This type of cross, the Lorraine Cross, perhaps indicates the former presence here of a reliquary of the True Cross.

Kilfenora itself was known in ancient Gaelic literature as The City of the Crosses, famed for its outstanding collection of High Crosses.

The high concentration of such accessible visual heritage from our past in close proximity to each other makes the Burren Ireland’s ultimate outdoor museum, hugely popular with visitors and scholars alike.

Such an abundance of archaeological remains testify to the vitality and ingenuity of the Burren’s ancestral inhabitants. These features now make the Burren one of the richest archaeological landscapes in the world.