The Burren, as it is known, is a landscape almost unlike anything else on the planet. Apparently trees once grew upon the area but these days what smacks you in the eye is rock. Rock that goes on forever with cracks in it; seemingly barren ground to those who cannot see because around 1,100 plant species have been recorded here. It seems at first glance to be highly improbable but, when your eyes get keener, as they should, then every gap is filled with numerous species; a fern here, a wild strawberry there and, though none were in bloom while we were there, 75 per cent of orchid species.
We left Quin in good time but I had to stop at Killinaboy (something I occasionally felt like while raising my sons perhaps) where there is a church with an unusual double barred Cross of Lorraine (no, I’m not making it up to get in her good books) which is set in the 13th century west gable. It’s not easily discernible unless you are keen eyed or know what to look for and, though I took three shots of it, the lichen and moss make it difficult to register clearly but it’s something I can’t recall ever coming across before.
We make our way to Kilfenora, a small nondescript place in the middle of County Clare for there is a key tourist office here. We arrive about five minutes after a busload have walked in and get our information maps then head about 100m away for here is one of the key ancient church sites. The 12th century ruins, built on the remains of a 6th century monastery, have more than one interesting pieces to view.
Originally known for its seven crosses, they have diminished in number but even today you can view three complete ones, most notably the eye-catching Doorty Cross whose east face bears the figure of a bishop in high relief carrying a volute crozier (spiral hooked staff) representing the Roman Church. Beneath are two more bishops thrusting their croziers into a winged creature below. One is tau shaped representing the Coptic Church and the other signifies the Celtic Church. You can work that out for yourself, not a lot of love lost between the faiths!
There’s also the Blood monument in the south wall of the chancel, erected by Neptune and Isabella Blood. Neptune was dean between 1692 and 1716 and this monument commemorates the death of seven of his family and another (only 13 years old and married to his son of the same name!) who all perished between 1683 and 1700. Only one got past teen years, such was the horrific death rate of the times.
We backtrack for about 5km, turning off at Leamaneh Castle, a significant ruin you feel could be done up. Though it has lots of history the bulk of the ruin today is 17th century. One of Cromwell’s generals, named Ireton, sent body of five men disguised as sportsmen to assassinate the owner, Conor O’Brien, and one mortally wounded him. When his body was returned to the property his fiery redheaded wife is reported to have said, “What do I went with a dead body here?” She then proceeded to marry a Cromwellian soldier in order to keep her lands but is supposed to have pushed him out of a third floor window soon after when she had an argument with him. All told, she supposedly married 25 men but, when she killed her last one they sealed her body in a hollow tree but she is said by some to still haunt the old building even today.
However, the main attraction for me is the dolmen, the Poulnabrone (hole of the quern stone) is a portal tomb and it’s one of 178 known in Ireland and certainly one of its most famous. A massive slap of stone is perched sort of horizontal on some upright pieces. It’s the fact that it’s thousands of years old and makes you wonder how many people were needed to put the roof on that has me shaking my head.
When excavated in 1986, 16 adults and children were unearthed along with artefacts that dated the tomb to around 3600 BC. One of the babies was interred at least a thousand years after the others. It has since become Ireland’s first state-owned megalith.
As the rain and couple of busloads of tourists made their way towards us, we moved away from the area, on to Ballyvaughan, our first town by the sea on the western shores of Ireland.