Posted by: marymarthatours | December 18, 2011

Mysteries of The Burren

On our tours in the UK and Ireland, I call myself “The Hard Rock Lady” because of my fascination with Neolithic remains and the geology of the land. In Scotland, I was entranced by the layers of ancient history in the Kilmartin Glen. In this valley there are a vast number of different kinds of Neolithic structures and the Iron Age hill fort of Dunadd, where the spirits of my ancestors called to me. (No kidding, we can trace our genealogy that far back.)


Dunadd Hill Fort, Kilmartin Valley, Scotland (Sue H., 2009 tour)

Ireland is a land of myth and mystery and mystic stones from many eras: pre-human, Stone Age, Celtic period, early Christianity, Medieval, etc. It is chock full of ancient remains. Just driving down a country road, you are likely to pass by some stones from cultures of long ago. With a little knowledge, you can pick them out from amid the natural stony landscape. I plan to write up several blog postings about the “stones that remain” in Ireland starting with The Burren region.


The Burren, September 2011

We visited The Burren on the last day of our 2011 Ireland tour — in the rain which for me added to its mystique. This geological karst area is located north of Shannon Airport in the west of Ireland. The limestone sediment was once the bottom of the ocean, three and a half million years ago. With the evolution of time, ice ages, weather and erosion by nature and humans, the terrain has become a garden of rock and plant material. Slabs of limestone are separated by fissures where, because of the water drainage, calcium rich soil and warmth, plants naturally found in the Arctic-alpine and the Mediterranean grow side by side. It was delightful to bend over and closely look at the little plants growing in the cracks protected from the wind and cold air; small gardens in miniature. Spring and summer on The Burren with the 23 varieties of native orchids must be a real treat. I love the ancient rocks and this was “really old” stuff.

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The wildflowers of the Burren, September 2011

The Burren was first inhabited by Mesolithic and then Neolithic people and they left their mark in a variety of ways from stone walls to fence in their cattle to burial sites. We visited Poulnabrone, a famous dolmen located near a road in The Burren. A dolmen, more properly called a portal tomb, is the earliest style of ancient burial “chamber” in Ireland, dating from 4,000-3,500 BC. Of the four types of Neolithic tombs, the portal tombs are the most widespread in Ireland. The universal question asked when I show people my photos of Poulnabrone is, “How did they get that huge stone on top of the others?” Theories abide, but how they actually accomplished building it remains a mystery.


Poulnabrone Dolmen, September 2011

The first evidence of human existence in Ireland dates their arrival to 9,000-7,500BC, similar to the New World and later than the rest of Europe due to the Ice Ages which covered Ireland totally by ice. Change happens so quickly in our era that I doubt that there will be any architectural remains of us 6,000 years from now as evidence of our existence. I marvel at the depth of spirituality and the social systems that motivated the people who created the art and burial structures so long ago.

RTE, the Irish Television network, has created a wonderful two-part series on Ireland’s history in stone called “Secrets of the Stones”.  

“Re-examining, redefining and ultimately rebuilding Ireland’s most iconic ancient monuments is the core mission of Secrets of the Stones; decoding Ireland’s lost past. In this innovative history strand, each episode will set out to separate myth from truth, find out what really happened and to bring to life Ireland’s most visionary and nationally significant sites.”   

To view the two episodes go to


If you enjoy mystery novels with a historic context, I recommend, The Burren Mysteries by Cora Harrison. The heroin is Mara, a lady judge of the Irish Brehon Law system that pre dates English influence. The stories take place in the 16th century in The Burren, and Poulnabrone is the location for “trials and judgments”. Reading these books is a fun way to travel to the The Burren and to Medieval Ireland.

(article and all Burren photos by Martha)


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