Lush grass and wild flowers ensure stunning scenery at 'the rocky place'
Joe Barry writes on the Burren's beauty and his disappointment at finding no butter on local menus
I spent a few days in the west recently seeking out old castles and ruins and had been advised to first check out the area around Kinvara. There is something fascinating about these ancient crumbling buildings, half covered in ivy with the wind howling through the broken stonework and jackdaws and starlings their only residents.
Sure enough, I found castles a plenty, most still dominating the surrounding landscape with stunning views of the open sea and the numerous inlets on the shores of Galway bay.
Driving along the coast near Kinvara I was on the edge of what was formerly the Barony of Burren which in Gaelic means "a rocky place". That has to be the understatement of the century because there are over 50 square miles of limestone rock in the Burren. But it is also full of surprises, being renowned for its wild flowers and, up to relatively recently, as a winterage for store cattle.
In 1650 Cromwell's surveyor Edmond Ludlow stated that "Burren is a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him, and yet their cattle are very fat; for the grass growing in turfs of earth, of two or three foot square, that lie between the rocks, which are of limestone, is very sweet and nourishing."
The only cattle I saw on my travels this time were suckler herds and they looked exceptionally well nourished and, as Ludlow said, much of the pasture in and around the Burren is lush with abundant grass helped by warmth from the limestone slabs which must act somewhat like a storage heater.
Perhaps the most striking feature in the Burren is Mullaghmore or An Mullach Mór, which translates as "the great summit" but looks more like a gigantic grey cow pat of extraordinary shape. Father Ted's house (formerly of Craggy Island!) is also near Mullaghmore and a search on the internet told me that one can visit it and that the present owner will even make tea for you if you call her in advance.
More than 70pc of our native flower species can be found in the Burren and these along with the spectacular scenery attract thousands of visitors annually. Mercifully, unlike much of Donegal and the west coast, most of the area has been kept relatively unspoilt with few new buildings, tiny roads and wonderful walks through landscapes unchanged for centuries. Meandering along the boreens and pausing wherever my attention was drawn, I came upon the Burren perfumery which is well worth the visit if only for the lovely gardens and tea room. Due to the small roads, no coaches can reach it so those who do arrive are genuinely interested and not just looking for a "comfort" stop.