The Burren's
Culture & History

The Burren has long had an ancient standing as a centre of learning. The Burren has also produced some brilliant scholars, musicians, innovators and leaders.
Culture, history and traditions of the Burren
‘The land spoke of itself and its history in its placenames’

Here, the limestone hills and plateaux shelter the remains of Cahermacnaughten and its once great Brehon law school held under the auspices of the O’Davorens.

Cahermacnaughten was the Harvard or Yale of the old Gaelic order right up to the seventeenth century. This school possessed a very large collection of early Irish legal texts. The most famous of these, known as Egerton 88, is in the British Museum.

The Burren is where the Four Masters came for the seal of approval from the ollaimhe (historians) at their Kilkeedy School, and where the Bardic School of Ó Dálaigh in Finavarra was held.

Under the old Brehon system of society, such was the respect for learning that the ollamh or professor, held equal rank to a king or bishop.

Cahermacnaughten home of the Brehon Law School.
Brehon Manuscript
Thomas J. Westropp, the father of Irish archaeology photographed in his beloved Burren

The father of Irish archaeology

Thomas J. Westropp, the father of Irish archaeology has recorded many of the bountiful myths and legends of the region, and collections from the lifeworks of Westropp are proudly displayed at the Burren Centre.

It is perhaps a natural follow-on then that the Burren has also produced some brilliant scholars, musicians, innovators and leaders.

the 1799 north Clare uprising
County Clare as a physical entity is distinct and island like. Its people formed an insular community more so than any other in Ireland, protective of its traditions and of its kinship.

However as Ireland entered into its modern history, the people of the Burren were also shaped by social, economic and political forces.

Clare was badly scarred by the Great Irish Famine of the mid nineteenth century.

Outside the home of Thomas Birmingham, A battering ram is used to breach the home for eviction in Moyasta, County Clare. c. 1888

In a devastating ten year period, almost 50,000 people died of famine and disease, 40,000 of these in the workhouses, with the local Ennistymon workhouse being amongst the most notorious.

Another temporary workhouse was opened in Kilfenora.

Bishop Fallon, the last bishop of Kilfenora wrote ‘let us thus avoid death in a country teeming with abundance of all kind of eatables except the potato, the wretched stable of the worst fed peasantry in Europe.

’Another 40,000 fled Clare during this apocalypse, most emigrating to the hope of America.

It is therefore noteworthy that it was a son of the Burren, Michael Cusack, born in Black 1847 who was to become the first leader of the Gaelic revival, and founder of the world’s largest amateur sporting and cultural organisation, the Gaelic Athletic Association.

By his act of preservation of the Burren traditions his people passed on to him, Cusack saved the national sport of hurling for those hundreds of thousands who today throng the playing fields of Ireland and the world, including its annual All-Ireland final showcase in Europe’s finest stadium, Croke Park, Dublin.

John Philip Holland inside his subamarine invention, (1841-1914)

John Philip Holland, inventor of the submarine.

Upon leaving his native Burren country for the USA, Holland initially hoped to use his invention in a covert naval war against Britain’s powerful fleet. His submarine project was called the great ‘salt water enterprise’. Holland told Thomas Edison that submarines would serve to end naval warfare because they were so lethal.
The great Doolin musician, Micho Russell sang of Holland:
Come all you young Irishmen who walk upon the land, There are feats indeed, and fairy creeds, that you might understand: There is one of them that comes to mind, the likes was never seen, He was John Philip Holland who invented the submarine.

Lord of the Rings' was inspired by the Burren

Tolkien visited the West of Ireland on many occasions and spent considerable time in the Burren when he held the position of External Examiner to the English Department of NUI Galway between 1949 and 1959.

During this time he revised and published The Lord of the Rings. “An unexpected body of evidence is beginning to emerge that unmasks Ireland and The Burren in particular as a significant influence on Tolkien’s creative imagination,” explained University of Ulster Lecturer and Tolkien scholar Dr. Liam Campbell.

J.R.R. Tolkien at Gregans Castle in 1951, he was a frequent guest at the house in the 1950s and was extremely inspired by the Burren landscape.
Poll na Gollum Cave in the Burren which suggests influenced the creation of one of Tolkien's most famous characters (Gollum)

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A visit to the Burren Centre gives you the insight, information and inspiration for any adventure to the Burren.

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