‘The Burren’s austere beauty is the result of millennia of abuse’ Tim Robinson (1999).
Start/finish: Coming from Corofin, take the R476 in the direction of Kilfenora and Lisdoonvarna. Drive 3 kilometres from Corofin until you reach the village of Kilnaboy. Take the right turn onto the L1112 opposite Kilnaboy’s former post office. Drive 5 kilometers down this road until you reach a crossroads. Park at the lay-by on the right just before the crossroads. A display panel at the lay-by contains information regarding the natural heritage of the area.
Description: High quality looped, way marked trail suitable for most levels of fitness.
Highlights: a turlough, mature ash/hazel woodland, species-rich grasslands and some fine views of the National Park’s iconic hill, Mullaghmore.
Distance: 1.3 km (0.8 mile).
Maps: The Burren – a two inch map of the uplands of north-west Clare. Folding Landscapes. Scale 1:31680 or Discovery Series Map No 51. Ordnance Survey of Ireland. 1:50 000
(1) Enter field by a metal gate at lay-by. The gate was inserted quite recently though the gate design is traditional Burren style. The Burren Farming for Conservation Program has been responsible for the installation of 444 traditional Burren-style gates in the region in the first three years of the program operation (2010-2012).
The smallest geographical unit in Ireland is the townland. There are more than 61,000 townlands on the island of Ireland. This one is called Knockaunroe – an anglicisation of the Gaelic place name Cnocán Rua which translates as small red hill.
(2) You soon walk through a gap in a wall and enter a second field. Both fields are very rich and diverse in wildflower species and are defined as species-rich grasslands. Horses and ponies graze in this area. This is quite unusual as it is primarily cattle which out winter in the uplands.
There are no chemicals applied here and that is one of the reasons why the fields are so diverse in plant life. Hay may be saved in these meadows but only after the flowers have gone to seed. The fly orchid (orchis insectifera) and the bee orchid (orchis apifera) are two of the most spectacular flowers in summer with their remarkable exercises in insect mimicry.
(3) The trail veers right. Walk through a second metal gate. If you look left here you will get a striking view of the iconic Mullaghmore hill. The great expanses of limestone on the hill have been exposed by glaciation and over-exuberant farming in pre-history. It is ironic that the wealth of geology, flora and archaeology in the region are in part due to ancient agri-vandalism. Thus the Burren is a highly paradoxical landscape brilliantly summarized in the cartographer/essayist Tim Robinson’s few words “its (the Burren’s) austere beauty is the result of millennia of abuse”.
(4) You will soon enter hazel scrub which is home to such mammals as badgers (meles meles), red squirrels (sciurus vulgaris) and pine martens (martes martes). There are an estimated 70,000 badgers in Ireland. The animal’s feeding behaviour is very similar to that of the badger in Spain and Italy. Mammalians believe the badger was introduced to Ireland by prehistoric farming communities migrating northwards via the Bay of Biscay.
The pine marten is Ireland’s most elusive land mammal. It is largely nocturnal. I have spotted it only twice in the last ten years! The marten population plummeted during the notorious 17th century deforestation program. However, its numbers are on the rise again in the west of Ireland.
(5) You emerge from the scrub. There is a large metal installation on the right of the trail. Continue along a wide path though the scrub until you reach an open area to your left. This area becomes flooded in periods of high rainfall as groundwater wells up from below and a temporary water body (Knockaunroe turlough) is formed. Scarce plants nationally such as shrubby cinquefoil (potentilla fruticosa)and purgative buckthorn (rhamnus cathartica) prosper at the turlough margins. Purple loosestrife (lythrum salicaria)and water mint (mentha aquatica) are evident on the turlough floor when the water disappears underground. Dragonflies (odonata anisoptera) and damselflies (0d0nata zygoptera)are readily observed hereabouts. Ireland is home to 13 dragonfly and 11 damselfly species. Dragonflies are much faster in flight than damselflies.
(6) Resume your path through the scrub. The common frog (rana temporaria) is a regular sight along the trail and is another indicator of the rich biodiversity of the Burren uplands. It is one of only three amphibians in Ireland – the other two being the natterjack toad (bufo calamita) and the newt (triturus vulgaris). The frog is adept at changing its colour as a camouflage mechanism. Otters (lutra lutra), foxes (vulpes vulpes) and grey herons (ardea cinerea) in the Burren all include the frog in their diets. The dry stone walls within the scrub suggest that this land was formerly rough pasture. Once the pasture was abandoned, the ecological succession was scrub.
(7) The trail opens out onto species rich-grasslands. Devil’s bit scabious (succisa pratensis) blooms in these meadows in late summers/early autumn. Its tall, purple flowerheads in profusion make for a wonderful spectacle. Mullaghmore comes in to view again and the lay-by/trailhead is on your left hand side.
© Text by Tony Kirby / Images by Carsten Krieger