Burren in Bloom: Why May is the most magical month to visit Clare
May is a magical month to visit the Burren, as Darragh McManus discovers on a family visit to Co. Clare.
Was it a Cromwellian general who remarked of the Burren that it had neither "a tree on which to hang a man, nor water enough to drown him, nor soil enough to bury him"?
He was right - sort of - but in another way, not at all.
I'm standing on top of Sliabh Rua, one of a range of hills crossing the Burren National Park. Below and around me, this famous limestone region of North Clare unfolds, a panorama in shades of grey. I see turloughs, valleys, Mullaghmore (looking like a giant collapsed pastry), hand-built walls, an old Famine road made from quarried stone and, here at the summit, a burial mound of ancient provenance.
It's like the dreamy beauty of the moon, rather than our own earth. However, as my guide Tony Kirby explains, the Burren also has an incredibly rich, fascinating ecology. Indeed it's almost unique, with flora encompassing Arctic, Alpine, Mediterranean and local species.
Wildflowers comprise its dazzling crown jewels, and next month they make their annual, all-too-brief appearance. The Burren in Bloom festival (burreninbloom.com), with its raft of walks and talks, is the perfect excuse to see the lunar steppes explode with colour. Even Cromwell, that old grump, would have appreciated it.
Wildflowers in the Burren
The Birds of Prey experience at Ailwee Caves (aillweecave.ie; €18/€9) is superb. Owls, falcons, vultures, eagles - and a super-cool raven - are among the many remarkable birds to see. Twice a day their handlers bring the birds out into an arena where you can enjoy flying skills, handle a bird yourself, and learn all about them. Did you know that a mass die-off has led to a rabies epidemic in India, for instance? Well, you do now.
For something a little different, try the Burren Perfumery (burrenperfumery.com; free) in Carran. The oldest-working perfumery in Ireland draws inspiration from the area's floral life to make a range of natural and organic cosmetics by hand. See where and how it all happens, stroll the herb garden or take refreshments in the charming tea-room (below).
The Burren Perfumery
We stayed in Churchfield, a holiday home hidden away in the centre of Ballyvaughan village. It's a lovely two-storey with large kitchen and sitting room, four bedrooms and a pair of bathrooms. It has a huge lawn and high walls to keep small children safe, and best of all, a 1970s-style metal slide! This is one of several hundred self-catering holiday homes available throughout the country at cottages4you.ie.
The Cliffs of Moher (cliffsofmoher.ie) will always take the breath away, but the "visitor experience" could be improved with a few tweaks. First, the carpark seems to be in a permanent state of resurfacing; any chance it could finally be tarmacked properly? And while the small people loved the virtual-reality film The Ledge, the screens were too dark at the side, making it very difficult to see.
Get me there
Holiday homes with cottages4you.ie range from €234 to €1,770 per week. Tony Kirby is running 'food-and-walk' packages with the Wild Honey Inn in Lisdoonvarna (heartofburrenwalks.com) on May weekends. See also burrennationalpark.ie, discoverireland.ie and the National Park information centre in Corofin.