The Burren: Ballyvaughan – Kilfenora – O’Brien Country
Ballyvaughan The heart of the Burren and the coast of Galway Bay. 1986, 7pp, 33 b&w illustrations. A2 map
The heart of the area on this map is the village of Ballyvaughan on the South coast of Galway Bay. It has a hotel, guest-house and many B & Bs and is the ideal starting point for exploring the Burren. It is the start of the Burren Way, a waymarked walk on footpaths and small roads, leading over the uplands from Ballyvaughan to the Western edge of the Burren, with spectacular views over the Atlantic, then leading to Doolin village and on to the well known Cliffs of Moher.
There are many old disused roads in this area, called green roads. One of the most rewarding walks on such a road leads around Black Head, the most Northern headland of the Burren. Here the visitor can climb to one of the most impressive structures of Ireland's Celtic past, the stone ring fort of Cathair Dhuin Irghuis, the stronghold of Fergus, a contemporary of Queen Meabh of Connacht. Made out of large blocks of limestone, standing on a high and bare plateau overlooking the open sea and visible from the Aran Islands, it may well have been used for signalling long distances by beacon fires, as well as the seat of a Celtic king. The area covered by this map contains hundreds of ringforts and enclosures which were the homesteads of farmers who lived in them from about 2,000 years ago up to mediaeval times. On the higher ground can be found the stone graves of Ireland's Neolithic people. The portal dolmen at Poulnabrone is a fine example. Another highlight is to visit some of the early medieval churches, of which there are many. A walk in the valley of Oughtmama near Bellharbour leads to three small churches within the remains of a monastic enclosure wall. The terraced gardens and earthen embankments constructed to carry water from a well to a now vanished mill can still be seen. Finally, there is Sancta Maria de Petra Fertilis (Saint Mary of the Fertile Rock) or, as it is more commonly known, Corcomroe Abbey. Built by Cistercian monks in the 12th century it is one of the most impressive sites in the Burren. These are just a few of the destinations awaiting the enthusiastic walker.
The Burren - Kilfenora - The City of the Crosses The South Burren including the ancient religious site of Kilfenora with its seven carved medieval crosses. 1988, 7pp, 27 b&w illustrations. A2 map
The town of Kilfenora lies at the south-west edge of the Burren. It has a long history as an important early monastic settlement and later as a religious centre from the 12-13th centuries. This is shown by the presence of five stone crosses which stand within or near the now ruined cathedral. It is a place to wander around slowly, looking at the beautiful stone carvings, such as the group of monks on the capitals of the 12th century East window in the cathedral, or wondering over the images on the 'Doorty' High Cross, which records the change in status of Kilfenora from a monastery to the centre of a diocese in 1152. 2001 saw the opening of a refurbished and enlarged visitor centre which has excellent displays on the forming of the Burren, its natural history, the lives of the people of the Burren from the first settlers, over 5,000 years ago, to medieval times and the history and folklore of the 19th century. Splendid examples of every type of antiquity can be found within a few miles of the town. Cathair Chonail is a very large and nearly perfect ringfort, close to the road from Kilfenora to Ballyvaughan. Closer to the town lies the small hamlet of Noughaval, 'new habitation or dwelling' in Irish, with its 12th century church. An outdoor altar made up of a simple cross slotted into a horizontal stone slab can be seen in the churchyard and a variety of ringforts and enclosures, wedge tombs and cairns can be explored to the South of the church. Finally, Lemeneagh Castle, about three miles east of Kilfenora, is a wonderfully evocative site with a highly romantic history. It is a five story 15th century tower house, later enlarged to a four story mansion in the 17th century. These are just a few of the places to see around Kilfenora; there are many others to be found by the adventurous traveller.
O'Brien Country The South West Burren including Doolin, Lisdoonvarna and the Cliffs of Moher. 1989, 7pp, 33 b&w illustrations. A2 map
One of the most scenic walks in the Burren is to head South on the green road above Fanore, part of the Burren Way, with superb views out to the open sea, the Aran Islands to the West and the mountains of Connemara to the North.
The area depicted on this map faces the great sweep of the Atlantic and the landscape is the outcome of a long and complex battle between the forces of nature. The constantly eroding waves beat against the unprotected coastline and the results are dramatically evident, from the massive 200 metre high Cliffs of Moher to the extensive sand dunes at Fanore.
From earliest times the sea was a great roadway and the waters off the West Clare coast were the scene of constant boat traffic. It is thought that the first people arrived here by sea. Primitive tools such as stone choppers, hand axes and hammer stones have been found near the village of Doolin, left by the Mesolithic people who lived here between 7000-3500 BC.
Not far to the North is a stone structure, called a court cairn which was a tomb and also the site of prehistoric ritual. Many of the churches along the coast were founded by or dedicated to the saints associated with the Aran Islands. The ruined church at Crumlin is dedicated to St Columba, who arrived there, according to tradition, in a canvas boat called a curragh, similar to those still in use on the islands.
The ferry to the Aran Islands runs from Doolin and the village is world famous for the traditional music played locally. Of the twelve castle shown on this map eight were held, one time or another, by the O'Brien clan, descendants of King Brian Boru and for centuries the most powerful family in the area.
The most impressive is Ballinalackan Castle. Set on a high rocky plateau it is surrounded by a partly intact bawn wall, which has a round-arched gateway. Finally, in the nearby 19th century Ballinalackan House, now a hotel, the weary walker can sit by a fine marble fireplace, carved out of a single slab, and relax over tea or stronger drink.