“Useless to think you’ll park or capture it/More thoroughly” Postscript by Séamus Heaney.
The photograph was taken by Shelly Wolf from L.A. He and his wife Barbara were on a Burren tour with me on a golden autumn day – the very first day of October 2016.
We stopped at a lay-by in the townland of Fahee South about 5 km east of the tiny village of Carran as this photo opportunity presented itself. The camera itself is pointing even further eastwards.
I like the image a lot as it can be read as having at least four different frames:
The lush green pastures in the foreground are in Glencolmcille (locally known as ”Glan”). The placename is an Anglicisation of Gleann Cholm Chille (the valley of St Colmcille). The monastic site (now ruins) in the valley are dedicated to this 6th century monk.
Like all Burren valleys, Glencolmcille has generous glacial deposits of sands, clays and gravels overlying the porous limestone. It makes for excellent terrain for pastoral farming. However, the valley would have been covered in oak trees in prehistory. It was farming communities in prehistoric/early historic times who converted the forest in to the grasslands we see today.
The stony hill of Turloughmore is perched above Glencolmcille. The Burren hills have been compared to a giant staircase with their classic terrace and cliff topography.
Moreover, the rocky uplands in the region make for a strong contrast with the lavish soil cover in the valleys below. The Turloughmore range extends for more than 6 km. The highest point is 267 metres. The great mapmaker/landscape writer, Tim Robinson, records 7 prehistoric tombs along the range.
The Burren uplands are home to one of Europe’s most distinctive landscapes – limestone pavement. In fact the region boasts the most extensive area of limestone pavement in the European Union. So much of the bedrock in the hills has been exposed due to glacial erosion and uber-enthusiastic prehistoric agriculture. Thus, one could argue that the Burren uplands are in part a deeply humanised landscape.
Hills like Turloughmore are still farmed today albeit in the autumn/winter only. Cattle are transferred to the uplands for the period November to April. This farming regime is highly unusual and is called reverse transhumance.
The white Derrybrien wind turbines are just about visible in the middle left of the image (behind Turloughmore). The turbines are built on Slieve Aughty – a 25 km-long Old Red Sandstone hill range extending from east Clare into south east Galway. It is a wild and desolate landscape of uplands bogs. (Bogs are wetlands that accumulate peat, a deposit of dead plant material). The highest point on the range is Maghera (400m).
The Derrybrien wind farm has 70 wind turbines and was one of the largest wind farms in Europe when it was built in 2003. The farm, constructed by the semi-state energy body E.S.B., precipitated a 0.5 million tonne peat slide with significant environmental damage and a fish kill of 50,000. Bogs are notoriously unstable environments. Construction of large-scale infrastructural projects on bogs without proper environmental impact assessment can lead to environmental chaos.
The final frame in the image is the “cloud formation” as Shelly phrased it. It was a remarkably still, bright autumn day. The clouds were frozen on the canvas.
The 1st of October was a day from heaven in Ireland and the month kept giving. Met Eireann, the Irish Meteorological Service, summarised October as “extremely dry almost everywhere” with “mean air temperatures on or above average nearly everywhere”. However, November has returned to the form of most of 2016 – unsettled and changeable. We will look back on October 2016 as mí na míosa – the month of months.
Shelly informs me that the shot was taken with a Nikon D5 camera and a 20mm Nikon lens.
Thanks to Shelly and Barbara for the company and the sublime photo. Go n-eirigh an bóthar libh. May the road rise with you.
This image was made on another, more gloomy autumn day a few years ago. This is without a doubt one of the most dramatic viewpoints in the Burren and because it is right beside the road it is being visited and photographed by many.
I fell in love with this spot some 20 years ago on one of my first visits to the Burren. I remember that the stonewall winding its way uphill got me mesmerized and I think I spent a whole role of film on this wall alone. Since then I have come back countless times and experienced this place in all conditions: The fresh green of spring, the heavy green of summer, the barren brown of winter and even covered in snow. Autumn however remains my favourite: The time when the green of summer is disappearing but still visible while warm yellow and brown tones start to take over and paint the Burren landscape with a kaleidoscope of coulors.
This image was made with a Canon EOS 5D III and a 24mm lens. Shelly Wolf’s image (I reckon) was made with a 200mm and not with a 20mm lens.