Historical Ruins and Magnificent Cliffs ~ A Bus Tour of Co. Clare, Ireland

Landscape: Foreground, sunny dandelions; background, cliffs of moher under a blue sky.

Dandelion Cliffs
Sunny dandelions greeted us as we climbed the walkway to view the magnificent Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland.

It was pouring.

Of course it was! It rained every day of our visit to Ireland last June. Not all day, but every day.

The silver lining was that were were going to be comfortably seated on a bus tour of County Clare all day, and not walking the wilds of the Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry, as we had been the day before. And, it IS that rain, after all, that makes Ireland the “Emerald Isle”.

We were meant to be heading into some of Ireland’s “most stunning scenery”. So, we picked up our umbrellas, packed our raincoats, and crossed our fingers.

It was still pouring when we arrived at our first brief stop at the ruins of Leamaneh Castle; my husband (holding the umbrella) and I (wielding the camera) were the only members of the tour group who even got out of the bus.

View of the Leamenagh Castle ruins under a grey sky. Co Clare, Ireland

Leamenagh Castle Ruins
The original Leamenagh Castle was built around 1480 by one of the last High Kings of Ireland. The manor house was added in 1648 by Conor O’Brien and his wife, Máire ní Mahon. Connor died early, and his widow became known as “Máire Rúa” (Red Mary) due to her flaming red hair. She is one of the most infamous women in Irish folklore, probably because she was able to retain her estate via two politically astute marriages.

The rain continued as we pulled up to our second, longer, stop at Caherconnell Stone Fort, a stone ringfort dating back to 400 AD. We braved the wet and took the self-guided tour through the magnificent stone ruins.

A rock painted with a number "3" on the wet grass at Caherconnell Stone Fort, Co Clare, Ireland.

Caherconnell Stone Fort
The self-guided tour takes the visitor through the ringfort, built by farmers around 400 AD and left much as it has been found.

Bushes growing outside the walls of Caherconnell Stone Fort, Co Clare, Ireland

Walls of the Fort
Like other ringforts, Caherconnell was probably built as a defence against animals and raiders. Almost perfectly round, and between 140-145 feet in external diameter, it would have housed a small settlement.

Close-up: wet hawthorn leaves.

Ringforts are commonly referred to as fairy forts: fairies live in the forts or in the hawthorn trees that grow in them. It is considered unlucky to cut these trees down.

Close-up: Ferns growing amid the wet stones of the Caherconnell Stone Fort, Co Clare, Ireland

The walls are 12 feet thick, built from large blocks, as much as three feet long and two and a half feet high. This makes them a perfect home for moss and ferns.

The rains eased off but the grey skies hovered for our third stop at a portal tomb: the fascinating Poulnabrone Dolmen – a neolithic burial site probably dating between 4200 BCE and 2900 BCE.

Wide-angle view of a neolithic portal tomb: Poulnabrone Dolmen

Poulnabrone Tomb
Poulnabrone dolmen (Poll na mBrón in Irish, meaning “hole of the quern stones”) is a neolithic portal tomb thought to date to 3800 BCE.

View of Poulnabrone Tomb in Co Clare, Ireland, from the back, under a wet grey sky.

Poulnabrone Tomb
The twelve-foot slab-like capstone sits on slender portal stones. The chamber underneath was the last resting place for almost thirty adults and children, as well as various personal items.

Close-up: the porous limestone pavement around the Poulnabrone Tomb, Co Clare, Ireland, pockmarked with moss and other growths.

Limestone Pavement
The porous limestone pavement around the tomb is pockmarked and slippery with moss and moisture.

I was thrilled to stop for lunch overlooking Galway Bay, not only because I was hungry and and the food was terrific, but because I could muse about my ancestors who had emigrated from across those same waters only a few generations before.

Galway Bay

Galway Bay
Calm waters and a patch of blue sky greet us at our lunch stop in Ballyvaughan Village.

View of a cream and maroon coloured inn: Monks Pub, Ballyvaughan Village, Co Clare, Ireland

Monks Pub
Justifiably famous for its seafood, the pub was a welcome stop.

As the skies cleared further and the sun came out, we continued southwest across the Burren (Boíreann, Irish for “rocky place”) and stopped for a scramble across the glaciated limestone karst “pavement”.

Landscape: Rugged coast of the Burren, with ponies grazing on the short grasses, Co Clare, Ireland

The Burren
Ponies graze on the short grasses that grow in the sparse soils atop the limestone rocks.

Rough-hewn stones piled into a wall against blue sky, the Burren, Co Clare, Ireland.

Stone Wall

Stones at the base of a barbed wire fence; small daisies growing at the base. The Burren, Co Clare, Ireland.

Still Life Found: Stones and Flowers
Livestock love the Burren because the limestone holds the heat.

Flowers in the Fissures

Flowers in the Fissures
The vertical fissures (grikes) hold water, supporting pockets of plant life.

Landscape: Puddles of water collected in the limestone pavers of The Burren, Co Clare, Ireland

Puddles of Life

A Barratt Tour bus sits in the distance, on the Black Head Coastal Drive, the Burren, Co Clair, Ireland.

Bus on the Burren
Our bus sits on the Black Head Coastal Drive, awaiting our return, so we can drive to our last stop.

Landscape: view of the Cliffs of Moher under blue sky and white cloud.

Cliffs of Moher
Our final stop is at the stunning 214m (702 feet) tall Cliffs of Moher – thank heavens the sun is shining!

Landscape: the curving south end of the Cliffs of Moher under a blue sky.

Curving Cliffs
The cliffs, which have been used in numerous movies, including The Princess Bride (1987), stretch for 8 kilometres (5 miles) along the Atlantic coast.

Landscape: Information Centre at the Cliffs of Moher; a green hillside with only windows and doors visible.

Information Centre
The Visitor’s Centre, featuring informative displays and stunning photographs, includes cafeterias, restrooms, and a gift shop. It is built into the hillside, but surprisingly light and airy inside.

Landscape: O’Brien’s Tower on the Cliffs of Moher, Co Clare, Ireland.

O’Brien’s Tower
In the other direction lies O’Brien’s Tower, built in 1835 by Cornelius O’ Brien, and used as an observation tower.

Seascape: rugged granite cliffs with a tunnel through, Cliffs of Moher, Co Clare, Ireland.

Cliff Tunnel
Comprised of bands of Namurian sandstone, siltstone, and shale, the cliffs are wonderfully varied, and noisy with nesting bird life.

Dandelions in bloom in front of the Cliffs of Moher, Co Clare, Ireland

Dandelion Cliffs
One last look at the towering cliffs, and it is time to return to our lodgings in Shannon.

Statue at the side of the road: "The Great Hunger", to commemorate those who died 1845 and 1852. Co Clare, Ireland.

The Great Hunger
On the way home, we stop briefly at the statue of an orphan child at a Poorhouse door – a grim reminder of another facet of Ireland’s long and rich history.

text: slainte - good healthIt was a typical Irish day: starting in rain and ending in brilliant weather.

We heard historical tales – ancient and modern – told with a mixture of poignance and humour. We experienced remarkable sights, natural and man-made.

And, it goes without saying, we ate and drank well.


Pictures: 28June2012


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