Lough Bunny is part of the Burren Wetlands that occupy the south eastern border of the Burren. It measures about 2km in length, about 0.5km wide and less than 2meters in depth. Lough Bunny is a proper lake although it shows characteristics of a Burren specialty, the turloughs, seasonal lakes (or rather lakes dependent on the ground water level) that disappear completely during dry periods. While Lough Bunny never completely disappears it can show dramatic fluctuations of water levels throughout the year and during very wet winters it occasionally floods the R460 that connects Corofin with Gort and which runs right by the lake. These fluctuations are not only caused by the water falling into the lake, Lough Bunny is also connected to the mysterious underground water system of the Burren which when full up overflows to form the aforementioned turloughs and adds water to lakes like Lough Bunny, Travaun Lough, Skaghard Lough and a few other lakes in the area.
Lough Bunny derives its name from the Irish Buinne which, among other meanings, describes a flood or torrent as well as a plant shoot or members of the reed family. Both translations would make some sense: The flood might refer the the fluctuating water levels while the latter might be a reference to the bulrush which grows in abundance in the lake and in the past was used for thatching.
For some reason Lough Bunny never rose to fame like other destinations in the Burren. The views from the eastern shore are however as good as it gets: On your left would be the iconic hills of the Burren National Park; Mullagh More, Slieve Roe and Knockanes. Straight ahead the long ridge of Turloughmore Mountain would dominate the skyline. To your right, at the northern end of the lake, the ruin of Boston Castle, also known as Cloondooan Castle, rises above the horizon of the otherwise flat plain that stretches between the lake, Kinvara and Gort.
The castle of which only a few precarious leaning walls remain today was, according to the Annals of the Masters in 1586, one of the best fortified buildings in Ireland:
“… was not an inland castle in Ireland better fortified and more impregnable than Cluain Dubhain.”
This unfortunately didn’t change its fate: Mahon O’Brien, the chief of Cloondooan, was a known supporter of the Irish cause and had been involved in a number of uprisings against the English occupants. On the other side Sir Richard Bingham, Governor of Connaught, was renowned for his ferocity and in 1586, while another rebellion was brewing, he besieged Cloondooan Castle. In some texts it says that O’Brien held out for seven days, in others it is three weeks but in the end the castle was surrendered after Mahon O’Brien was killed while directing his defenses from the battlements. After that event the castle was abandoned and was left to the elements.
Apart from the view and peaceful atmosphere the shores of Lough Bunny are a proper wonderland for everybody interested in the Burren wildflowers. From spring until autumn there is always something special to be discovered. April and May bring with it the fluffy flowers of the creeping willow that grows alongside the early purple orchid, common butterwort and the turlough dandelion (or marsh dandelion) that can only be found around the lakes and turloughs of the eastern Burren. Summer greets with dropwort (a speciality that can’t be found anywhere else in Ireland), harebells, pockets of ling and bell heather and numerous species of orchids. In autumn a number of shrubs not only produce colourful leafs but guelder-rose, spindle, blackthorn, hawthorn and the rare alder-buckthorn also show off a beautiful display of berries.
Waterfowls can also be met at Lough Bunny: Mallard, tufted duck and mute swan breed occasionally on the small islands on the north-western side of the lake. The latter ones get very territorial and protective once their offspring has arrived: I once met a family with three chicks feeding in the pockets of bulrush on the north- eastern end of the lake. Soon after another pair of mute swans touched down at the opposite side of the lake. They were soon spotted and while mammy swan and the chicks disappeared deeper into the bulrush, daddy swan took on his best attack posture and swam towards the intruders. It took him more than five minutes to reach the other side of the lake. I couldn’t see what really happened then but soon two mute swans rose from the other side of the lake and swiftly disappeared eastward while daddy swan returned to his family.
Images & text by Carsten Krieger