I have delayed writing this entry. I’ve experienced so much here in West Clare, it is difficult to describe this place that captured my heart. There’s simply too much to absorb, so in this entry, I am only going to write about the land and seascape. My next entry will consider some of the sacred places I visited in Kilfenora, Liscannor, Bell Harbor, and Kilmacduagh. I hope you’ll bear with me as I try to convey how much this place has meant to me.
County Clare, along the western edge of Ireland, is notably famous for the Cliffs of Moher, the sea cliffs between the small towns of Doolin and Liscannor. But Clare is also home to the Burren, a Unesco and European Union-protected geopark site of 250 square km of karst limestone over 350 million years old.
It’s hard to find words to describe the raw beauty of the Burren. It is, as one of the websites below describes, a living landscape.
In most farming communities, livestock is moved to lower elevation in the colder months. In the Burren, however, cattle are relocated from the pastures UP to the limestone fields in a centuries-old tradition known as “Winterage.” From October to December, farmers move their cattle to the upper fields, where the limestone is warmer than the lower ground, water is available, and the cows’ winter grazing helps maintain the flora, especially the hazel. Winterage also allows the lower pastures to rest and replenish over the winter. This practice, passed down from generation to generation, is one of incredible ecological sustainability.
In addition to the flat limestone beds, the Burren has glacial erratics, or large boulders left behind when the glaciers retreated. For an excellent article on the geology of the Burren, please click here. You’ll learn more about grikes and clints, karsts, and turloughs. The Burren is not a “bunch of rocks.”
Additionally, I learned that due to the combination of a temperate climate, the geological features of the land, and the way the light is reflected off the limestone, over 600 different species of plants grow in the Burren, including 75% of Ireland’s native plants which includes Mediterranean, alpine, and arctic plants. Click here for more information.
This is a landscape of survival – a landscape of growth and renewal and life, despite the presence of harsh, challenging rock. For more information about the fascinating Burren, check out these amazing websites:
The rolling pastures in Clare belie the majestic cliffs and surging Atlantic to the west. Ambling cows graze lazily on the lush grass, only looking up if you stop and approach the fence line. This is a peaceful place, white and yellow houses clustered on little ridges of land, the ocean somewhere beyond. I think nearly all of County Clare is a thin place. I feel a connection with this land, different from other parts of Ireland.
From Loop Head in South Clare to Fanore and Black Head in the North, the Wild Atlantic Way weaves in and among small villages and towns. I’ve made multiple trips up and down the coastline and each place reveals itself to me as my thin place. I’ve come to realize that, for me, those places where the sun and sky meet the land and sea are my thin places. And the western coast in Clare is full of these.
Repeatedly, I am drawn to the shore. The continual ebb and flow of the tides has existed as long as life itself: steady, relentless, ever-changing. Powerful waves steadily erode the land, carving cliffs and ledges into the rock. Yet there is also slow change. Seaweed is washed ashore one day; the next, swept back to sea. Crabs and other critters scurry across the sand, struggling to gain a hold as the sand shifts beneath them.
So too, have I sought a place of safety, a place to feel secure while the tempest swirls and the tide rushes towards me. At times, I have been swept off my feet and struggled to find a way to stand and even breathe. But at this time, right now, right here, I am safe and at peace, beside the shore, in County Clare.