I know its cliche to travel to Ireland. Especially the American traveling to Ireland. It is so overdone. From genealogy trips to “drinking tours” of Dublin, Americans seem to gravitate toward the Emerald Isle with preconceived notions of what Ireland and its people are like. And as if we know anything about Ireland and its history. Ask any drunkard on that holiest of holy Irish-American holiday every March 17th, just what they are celebrating, and they will most likely vomit on you as they down their cheap shot of Jameson’s after too many car bombs–and yeah, that name is inappropriate on so many different levels. But hey, American commercialism at its best. Anyway, I digress. This is about travel.
As the jokes goes, every American believes they’re Irish, or is Irish…especially on St. Patrick’s Day. What culture can claim to evoke such a feeling in America as the Irish can? But outside of Dublin and pub crawls, there is a whole world of rich culture and history to explore. So put down the pint or two fingers of whiskey and explore the verdant, rock wall lined fields of Ireland’s west coast.
Roughly the size of Indiana, Ireland is not a large country. Driving most motorways at the posted speed limit, you can cross the island in 3.5 hours from coast to coast. But don’t let the size of Ireland fool you. Criss-crossed with roads winding past peat bogs and rock walls, fields and small towns, it would take months of nonstop navigation to see a small portion of this nation. Off the beaten path applies to Ireland, in more ways than one.
A beautiful, exquisite perfumery down a single lane in the middle of the Burren, a music house in a small coastal town which boasts a classic tradition of great skill and talent, or the ruins of tower houses; castles; churches; and much more, these are just a few of the treasures hiding in plain sight. Travel down almost any road you can access, and you will find something of interest. Ireland is a land of great adventure and possibilities for the traveler.
But alas, I cannot write about all of it in one post, so I have chosen one for this post. A place that has struck me with such inspiration, and one that I have only lightly explored; the Burren.
A geological wonder, The Burren is a karst landscape. A limestone bed, having once been part of the ancient ocean seabed, now a range of low-lying, glacial scraped hills, which undulate along the barren landscape. While verdant fields flank this area, the Burren itself looks lunar, as if a chunk of the moon itself fell from the sky and landed in a 270 square mile pasture. It is other worldly to immerse yourself amongst this landscape.
Situated in County Clare, Ireland, the Burren is one of Ireland’s six national parks. It is home to 70% of the nation’s wildflowers with over 150 species just in this small range. Recently it has been suggested that Tolkien was inspired by The Burren, when he took frequent walks throughout this extraterrestrial landscape, while writing The Lord of the Rings.
With hiking trails throughout, The Burren offers low elevations–about 420 feet gain–for the outdoor enthusiast, with hikes ranging between 3-8 km. Although none of these hikes are arduous, any path labeled difficult by the park service are treacherous due to the worn limestone and rock paths. This is the sort of trail that you watch every step you take, to prevent rolling or breaking an ankle. Hike to the top of Mullaghmore Mountain for beautiful views of the limestone which seems to stretch out forever. Take the blue trail to wrap around the mountain. For an experienced hike, with breaks, stops, and enjoyment of the view, it should take 2 hours.
Within the Burren is a small hidden wonder, The Burren Perfumery. This beautiful business is an oasis in this landscape. With an ethos of sustainability and whole host of organic skin products, they masterfully create beautiful scents, captured from the essence of wildflowers within in the area. Although, for conservation’s sake, they do not use the plant life in the Burren for their perfume, all their scents are derived from the plants found there.
With a retail shop, tea room, and beautiful herb garden, the perfumery offers more than just a destination to purchase goods. Arriving down the long winding road, with vegetation grown up on both sides, the courtyard opens up to unveil a collection of small stone buildings, which looks like a yoga retreat or winery straight out of Napa Valley.
While you wander through the store, scents waft through the air, as you watch workers package bottles behind the counter by hand. Opened in 1972, The Burren Perfumery was artisanal long before that word was captured and repackaged by millennials.
As Ireland’s oldest operating perfumery, they have a deep connection to the community and landscape that surrounds them. As Sadie Chowen, owner and perfumer noted, this is a lifestyle business, and she seeks to live locally, while leaving the smallest footprint behind.
Within the Burren there are too many geological wonders to describe, but there are wedge tombs and dolmens to discover. Many dot the maps of google earth, and can be found that way, or just follow the brown signs that indicate a historical or cultural landmark of significance.
The Poulnabrone Dolmen is a wedge tomb dating back between 5,000 and 7,000 years. Sitting in a rocky field, the large stones rise above the landscape, while cows graze and stare warily at the tourists who traipse across the roped path.
To know The Burren, one must visit it themselves. There is a magic here that captures the observer. Wonders are hidden, as limestone has been eroded away, leaving behind geological phenomenons. Fossils imbedded in the limestone can be found by the most ardent searcher. And if you are lucky, ask a local to tell you about places no one else knows. If they know, they will tell you. Ireland is one of the most friendly countries I have ever visited. There is always a story to tell, and they are yearning to tell you. Just one thing, don’t be in a rush. Sit back, and enjoy the tale. Even if it takes a while. Hospitality runs strong, and you will be regaled with every detail.