Shane Connolly and the Burren by Kevin Sharp

Erin and I just got home from a vacation in Ireland, a place we love and keep returning to. We are especially fond of an area in the western part of the country called the Burren, approximately 100 square miles (geologists say more) in County Clare. The Burren is a range of largely treeless, eroded limestone mountains (about 1000 feet at the highest) that roll in terraced shelves one after another until they plunge into the Atlantic Ocean. The mountains of the Burren possess a striking, some might say austere, beauty, which is enhanced by fascinating archaeological remains and remarkably diverse plant life thriving in their fissures. It is an incredible place, like nowhere else on earth.   

If you go to the Burren, you will find hotels, inns, and cottages in or near the villages of Ballyvaughan to the North, Lisdoonvarna to the South, Doolin or Fanore to the West, and Kinvarra to the East. But regardless of where you stay, and even if your time is short, schedule a guided hike in the Burren with Shane Connolly. Virtually anyone in Ballyvaughan can direct you to him, but your hotel certainly can. Shane is a farmer, he has lived in the Burren all his life, and as he guides you through this extraordinary landscape, he describes the region's geologic origins, its ancient and modern history, its archaeology, and botany with wit, a measure of local pride and concern, and with insights acquired over a lifetime. But Shane is more than a knowledgeable walking guide, he’s a fascinating figure in his own right, and a big part of the reason we keep going back to the Burren.   

A week ago today, we were walking with Shane (and a nice couple from Surrey, England) on Cappanawalla Mountain on the northern edge of the Burren. Shane reminded us (it was our sixth walk with him in five years) of the plate tectonics, glaciers, and rising sea levels that created Ireland and made it an island. He described the arrival of the first Irish, and the clearing of the forests for agriculture that ultimately created the Burren. As we walked, he pointed out hart's tongue fern, maiden hair fern, mountain aven, fragrant orchids, St. John's wort, fairy flax, Irish eye bright, one lone scarlet pimpernel, wild geranium, and he told us how his ancestors had used each of them to cure one ailment or another. As we stood alongside stacked rock walls and looked down on the remains of castle towers, churches, and ancient ring forts, Shane brought the whole of Ireland's history to life.   

Every time we walk with Shane Connolly, we make ourselves three promises. We are determined to retain some of what we saw and heard, but also to learn more about the place we live now and the places we come from. We swear we will introduce this brilliant, funny, sometimes irascible Burren guide to others. And finally, we say to ourselves we will go back to the Burren as soon as we can.

Posted by Chantal Drake at 12:20 PM
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