Monday 19 February 2018

Review: Travel: Burren Country by Paul Clements

Collins Press, €12.99

The "staycation" is the holiday of choice for many these days -- all that global jet-setting just seems a bit tacky at the moment, doesn't it? -- and there can surely be nowhere better in Ireland to visit than the Burren in north Clare.

As a resident of the area, I'm amazed the Burren doesn't get more hype, and there aren't more books along the lines of Burren Country: it's genuinely unique (yes, an overused word, but it applies here).

The Burren is one of the most unusual and magical places in the world: a crazy lunar landscape in one part; rough-hewn fields corralled by stone walls in others. Europe's tallest cliffs lie to the west, the sublime beauty of Fanore beach to the north. Its limestone bedrock and exceptional ecosystem are found in very few other parts of Europe.

By rights any Irish person with a car and a few free days should have visited by now, and this is as good a guide as any. But it's more than that too: Burren Country is a love letter to a place, a memoir, a nature trek and a series of snapshots of people, locations, flora. (There are literal snapshots as well: the book, a lovely little paperback production from Collins, is dotted with excellent photos, both colour and B&W.)

Paul Clements has three decades of experience as a journalist and author, and specialises in travel books: his last, The Height of Nonsense: the Ultimate Irish Road Trip got excellent reviews.

A travel guidebook editor too, he's clearly the right man to explore, explain and capture this strange, dreamlike place.

What I liked most about Burren Country was its ambition and scope, on two levels.

First, Clements doesn't limit himself to one aspect of the Burren, but delves into almost everything: the animals and plants, geology and ecology, built heritage and natural beauty, towns and country walks, poets and pilgrims. In one chapter you're reading about changes wrought on vegetation by new season, in another you're eavesdropping on conversation in a Ballyvaughan pub.

Especially interesting is an extended section on Sean Tyrrell, the "bard of Bellharbour": a musician and poetic soul who's been inspired by this enchanted landscape like many, but to greater effect than most.

More than this, Clements is ambitious in what he aims to achieve. By his own admission the writer is "smitten" by the Burren -- he admits to even daydreaming about the place sometimes -- and his book is nearly as much a journey into the interior of the self as a mapping of this physical location.

Clements and the Burren, one feels, are closely intertwined; the place has become part of the man.

Darragh McManus

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