The Bleak But Beautiful Burren National Park

The bleakness of the Burren.
Jared I. Lenz Photography / Getty Images

The Burren National Park in County Clare is Ireland's most desolate National Park, often described as a "moonscape". The word Irish word "boíreann" literally means "a rocky place" (and there are several areas called "burren" all over Ireland). How well this name fits the Burren National Park is evident - the lack of soil cover and exposed limestone make the area seem bleak and bare. This, however, does not hold true upon further inspection.

Yet the saying of a Cromwellian officer has been quoted since 1651: "A country where there is not water enough to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury them." He had peculiar priorities ...

Size of the Park

The Burren National Park stretches over approximately 1,500 hectares of land, the burren itself is larger (approximately 250 square kilometres or 1% of Ireland's landmass).

Where is It

The Burren National Park proper is located in the south-eastern corner of the general "Burren" area. This part of the Burren was bought by the Irish government, for the sole purpose of nature conservation, and continued public access.

The highest point in the Burren National Park is the peak of Knockanes at 207 metres.

Getting There

As said above the Burren National Park is on the south-eastern side of the general area known as "the Burren" in County Clare. The borders are defined, yet not readily visible.

From Corofin the R476 leads to Kilnaboy, where a right turn and another five kilometers along the road will lead to a crossroads with a small lay-by. From here you will have to follow the "crag road" into the Burren National Park on foot. Be careful of traffic! In summer the Burren National Park can be very busy. Please avoid parking on the limestone pavement ...

Burren National Park Visitor Centre

Main Attractions of the Park

The Burren region is world-famous for its bleak landscape and, surprisingly perhaps, flora. During the summer months visitors experience a colorful diversity of flowering plants within the fragile ecosystem (and often hidden from plain sight). Arctic and alpine plants thrive alongside with Mediterranean species, lime- and acid-loving plants grow side by side and even woodland plants can be found, despite not a tree being nearby. All this on land that appears to consist entirely of rock and nothing but rock.

The ecosystem of the Burren National Park is extremely complex, a mosaic of habitats that are contrasting yet complementing each other, hard to isolate. Around 75% of all plant species found in Ireland are actually present in the Burren, including no less than 23 of the 27 native orchid species.

The reason? Apparently, smooth at first sight, the limestone pavement areas consist of "clints" and "grykes". Clints are slab-like, flat areas. Grykes are the fissures and cracks that run through the clints. And in the grykes soil can accumulate, sheltered from wind. These accumulations provide enough anchorage and nutrients for plants. Most stunted like bonsai - due to a combined lack of space, nutrients, water and soil working together with the wind and grazing animals to keep everything at a low level.

Some grassland can be found on terraces with a thin soil layer, between raised areas of limestone pavement and on glacial deposits. These grasslands provide a mixture of species. Ranging from Arctic and alpine plants right to those more commonly fond along the Mediterranean shores. Also, the altitudes seem to be mixed up in the Burren - spring gentians normally grow high up in the Alps, in the Burren you can find them at sea level.

But be advised: do not pick any of the plants or flowers you see in the Burren National Park and the Burren!

Most of the mammal life in the park is nocturnal. Fauna in the Burren National Park consists of badgers, foxes, stoats, otters, pine marten, squirrels, mink, rats, mice, bats, and shrews, you will also see the occasional hare or rabbit. Bears are, however, long extinct; good news for the feral goats that roam throughout the area.

Bird watchers will try to spot all 98 species of bird actually recorded within the park - from peregrine falcons, kestrels and merlins to finches and tits. Wildfowl are using the Burren as a winter quarter, with whooper swans making the most dramatic entrance.

Amenities

Actually, there are none - but you will find a number cafés and shops in the villages dotted around the Burren.

Other National Parks in Ireland

  • Ballycroy National Park
  • Connemara National Park
  • Glenveagh National Park
  • Killarney National Park
  • Wicklow Mountains National Park