'There isn't a tree to hang a man, water to drown a man, nor soil to bury a man.'
July 19, 2018
Leaving the pretty seaside village of Doolin behind us, we drive along the narrow country road toward Ballyvaughan. There is rich farmland between the azure sea and the road, and the fine summer weather has given farmers the opportunity to cut their hay. The huge round-shaped bales sit in a row, sharply contrasting with the sea behind and the pasture in front.
By Australian standards, the paddocks are tiny; each surrounded by dry-stone walls. In west Clare, dry-stone walls are everywhere, and we will soon understand why stone is the material of choice used by farmers and builders alike. I am astounded by the number of tiny stone cottages, large churches, and castles dotted around the countryside. Many are in ruins whilst some have been renovated and are private homes or hotels.
We round a sharp bend. It is like we have driven through a door, with green but rocky fields on one side and hard white limestone on the other. For as far as I can see, there are hundreds of thousands of stones dotted in the fields and I wonder how farmers can eke a living out of these barren fields. There are few cows here now, but apparently the walled fields are used in the wintertime for grazing.
I see a small turnout and park the car. Between the road and the sea is an expanse of rock, held back by a dry-stone wall. Behind me, and across the road is rock, solid and unrelenting. I walk through a gap in the stone wall and find myself standing on the hard uneven surface of this part of The Burren.
I am standing in an ancient geological region of County Clare. The landscape has been shaped by hundreds of millions of years of natural forces. And yet, it hasn't been shaped uniformly. Why is the rock I'm standing on as level and smooth as a tabletop and the one next to me pockmarked and rough? How did a rock in the distance remain standing, whilst the landscape surrounding it is flat? Over the millennia, water has seeped into tiny cracks, wearing away the rock into different shapes. I see the imprint of a foot on one and a scalloped pattern on another.
Between the cracks, tiny plants thrive. There is a collection of weeds, the seeds of which had been dropped by birds. There is a small-leaf ivy, and plants I've seen in the arctic, like tiny avens and saxifrage. Every now and then I catch sight of bright yellow flowers pushing their way out of the crags, like a ray of sunshine contrasting with the grey surface. Today, I wish I knew more about geology and botany. It would be nice to be able to recognise the plants at a glance, or be able to identify the many rocks beneath my feet. I don't, however, have to be a geologist or a botanist to appreciate my surroundings today.
Ahead of me is a stone balancing on the surface. It's not a particularly large stone, but I wonder why it hasn't eroded at the same rate as the surrounding ones. It's not as if it has broken off and rolled down from a mountain, because there are none nearby. There are some questions I simply cannot answer, but that doesn't deter me from walking toward it to investigate it further.
The Burren is desolate-looking in the sunshine, so I cannot imagine how bone-chillingly bleak it is when the gales are blowing from the cold Atlantic Ocean. Standing in the centre of solid rock I can imagine why Cromwell and his generals thought this was so bleak that no man could possibly survive there. Yet within its austerity, there is unbelievable beauty.
Title Quote : Edmund Ludlow (1651)
Accommodation: Town Square Townhouses, St Brendan's Rd, Rathbaun, Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare, Ireland