Clare: A step back in time in pristine landscape

Poulnabrone Dolmen. Pic: PA

POULNABRONE AND CAHERCONNELL STONE FORT, BURREN, CO CLARE

DESPITE the crowds of visitors that flock to this most famous of Burren Portal Tombs, the site has not lost its magic or its majesty. One could reach it by compass bearing, crossing the moonscape, limestone pavement from Caherconnell settlement as my wife and I did years ago but there may be issues of trespass, and as it is within 100m of the R480 in any case, one cannot pretend this approach will imbue it with the sense of isolation in a pristine landscape.

It is true that its timelessness — a monument constructed of stones old beyond imagining, arranged by a people who dwelt in millennia past — is best appreciated at dawn or sunset, when crowds are not there to remind us of time present. Seen from aspects where the road, fences, pathways, interpretation boards and ropes are not in view — only the limestone plains stretching away beyond, and the sky above — one can perhaps imagine a world where man was so small as to be almost insignificant but, already advanced in his understanding of the heavens and the trajectories of stars, was beginning to make his mark and leave his testimony as in this monument here before us.

A dominating feature on the Burren skyline, excavations in the 1980s found the remains of some 16 to 22 adults and 6 children buried beneath it, along with a polished stone axe, some weapons, quartz and bone jewellery, and pottery. It likely remained a sacred site long after the Neolithic period of its foundation.

After parking at the car park, we set off left onto the R480 which, for nine months of the year is uncrowded. It is straight, there is excellent visibility and traffic tends to move at a leisurely pace. The other roads we join are prefect for walking.

After 800m, we reach the entrance to Caherconnell Stone Fort. This uniquely well-preserved ring fort built between 400 and 1,200 AD, is circular, 80m in diameter with walls 2m thick and up to 3m high. Developed for tourism, stone paths lead to it. It has been extensively excavated in recent years. It is open from mid-March to October.

Leaving Caherconnell, we again go left on the R480 and 1 km later reach the waymarked Burren Way at Ballydoora Crossroads, where we go right, downhill. After 200m, at a bungalow, a minor road goes left, uphill. From it, Poulawack Cairn is visible on the hilltop to the south. We continue right and soon can see limestone cliffs ahead. The large pond on our left is possibly a turlough. The scenery southward is exceptionally lovely. The landscape on all sides is replete with cairns, tombs, souterrains: we need only look at the OS map to find them. Burren artefacts, being stone-built, survive, and the area has experienced less changes than other parts.

Nearer the limestone cliffs, we pass the ruins of an ancient church on the left, one gable standing, with a graveyard around it. A kilometre farther along, we take the road going right, almost doubling back on ourselves, an extremely quiet, narrow road. Hazel woods lie below us to left and right. The landscape is now very flat, supporting large cattle. As we start to descend a slope, we have extensive views of stone pavement ahead. Descending, we round some corners, and at the T-junction go right on the R480 to Poulnabrone car park, our trailhead.


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