Geology of the Burren

The geology of the Burren (Boireann is the Irish term for 'rocky country') is the result of immense drama in ancient times that produced today's raw landscape. Follow the deep rivulets in the stone and you'll see that the barren Aran Islands just offshore are all part of the same formations.

Massive shifts in the earth's crust some 270 million years ago buckled the edges of Europe and forced the former seabed here above sea level. At the same time the stone sheets were bent and fractured to form the long, deep cracks characteristic of the Burren today.

During numerous ice ages, glaciers scoured the hills, rounding the edges and sometimes polishing the rock to a shiny finish, and dumping a thin layer of rock and soil in the cracks. Huge boulders were carried by the ice, and deposited on a sea of flat rock.

Flora & Fauna

Soil may be scarce on the Burren, but the small amount that gathers in the cracks and faults is well drained and nutrient-rich. This, together with the mild Atlantic climate, supports an extraordinary mix of Mediterranean, Arctic and alpine plants. Of Ireland's native wildflowers, 75% are found here, including 23 species of beautiful orchids, the creamy-white burnet rose, the little starry flowers of mossy saxifrage and the magenta-coloured bloody cranesbill. Lime-detesting plants such as heathers can be found living alongside those that thrive on lime. One of the biggest threats to this diversity is the proliferation of hazel scrub and blackthorn, which needs to be controlled.

The Burren is a stronghold of Ireland's most elusive mammal, the rather shy weasel-like pine marten. Badgers, foxes and even stoats are common throughout the region. Otters and seals inhabit the shores around Bell Harbour, New Quay and Finavarra Point. The Burren Code is an initiative to educate people as to how they can protect the environment of the Burren when they visit.

Books & Maps

There is a wealth of literature about the Burren. In Ennis' bookshops and local visitor centres, look out for publications such as Charles Nelson's Wild Plants of the Burren and the Aran Islands. The Burren Journey books by George Cunningham are excellent for local lore. The Burren and the Aran Islands: A Walking Guide by Tony Kirby is an excellent, up-to-date resource.

The Burren Series of Ramblers' Guides and Maps published by Tír Eolas (www.tireolas.com) features three illustrated, fold-out maps: Ballyvaughan (€4), Kilfenora (€3) and O'Brien Country (€3; which covers Doolin, Lisdoonvarna and the Cliffs of Moher). The booklet The Burren Way has good walking routes. Ordnance Survey Ireland Discovery series maps 51 and 57 cover most of the area.