Winter in the Burren

Mullagh More, Winter

Mullagh More, Winter 2009

We are back. Kind of. We haven’t sorted out the details yet but Scéalta na Boirne will be here to stay. Only the English title had to change from Burren Stories to Burren Tales as did the web address: We are now

The reason for doing this is simple: I just can’t part with the Burren and although current and upcoming assignments will bring me anywhere but the Burren I promised myself to set aside at least one day each month to ramble across limestone and bring back another Burren tale. And from what I have heard Tony already has a pile of new stories ready to go.

To start things up I put together some winter images from the past years and a few current ones. Ice and snow are rare (but it does happen) and usually winter in the Burren is a symphony of warm yellow and brown tones, soft sunshine (sometimes), high winds (more often), rain and hail (regularly) and overall a lot of peace and tranquility and the usual Burren magic.

Enjoy and have a peaceful Christmas and a healthy, prosperous and happy new year.

Carsten Krieger

Burren National Park

Mullagh More, Winter 2016

A X-PO Christmas

X-PO, Kilnaboy, Winter 2011

Burren National Park, Winter Floods

Flooded Hazel Forest, Winter 2015

Glen of Clab

Glen of Clab, Winter 2014

Winter Solstice Dawn

Winter Solstice Dawn, 2012

Lough Bunny

Lough Bunny, Winter 2016

Hailstorm, Gleninagh Valley

Gleninagh Valley, Winter 2013

A sad goodbye…

You might have noticed that nothing much is happening here on Burren Stories. The problem is that both Tony and myself have the typically insane self employed working hours as well as a family and fun projects like this blog always play second fiddle.

Unfortunately running this blog also costs money and with only a handful of posts going out every year it just doesn’t make sense to keep it up. So with a heavy heart we will be shutting down Burren Stories. Tony will continue writing about the Burren on his own site ( and I will try to keep my own blog ( going.

Thank you for your support over the past 2 years.


Wildflower Wonder of the World, Part II

Primrose, The Burren, County Clare, Ireland


The Burren 2016 is finally blooming after an uncommonly cold spring. The region is considered to be of true international importance for its Arctic, Alpine and Mediterranean flower admixture. The mystique lies in the melange.
I have picked out an example of a plant from all three regions and profiled them briefly as below. The three species are blooming at the time of writing. I also strongly recommend a pocket book which is indispensable when botanizing in the region.
Bain súp as! Enjoy!


A small member of the gentian family with the stem measuring only a few centimetres. The name derives from King Genthios of Illyria who was credited with discovering the herbal properties of the plant. The king reigned a couple of centuries before Christ and Illyria was a kingdom in today’s western Balkans.

Spring Gentian, The Burren, County Clare, Ireland

Spring Gentian, The Burren, County Clare, Ireland

The gentian is an astonishing metallic-blue colour. It is the symbol of the Burren region and flowers from April to early June. The flower is Alpine and is quite rare in the north of Europe. Teesdale is the only region in Great Britain where it grows. I ireland, the Gentian can only be found in a few scattered limestone localities in the west.

Spring Gentian is associated with mountainous limestone regions of central Europe and parts of Asia.
In the Burren, it is one of the montane plants which also grows at sea level. Moreover, it co-mingles in the region with orchids from the Mediterranean basin. This cold/warm climate plant melange makes the Burren a significant botanical region at a world level.


Orchids are one of the largest wild plant communities. More than 25 thousand species have been identified. The grand total of 56 species can be found in Ireland and Great Britain. The small Burren region (200 square miles) is home to an impressive 24 of the British and Irish species.

Dense Flowered Orchid/Irish Orchid, The Burren, County Clare, Ireland

Most of the Burren orchids flower in May and June. The Early Purple Orchid/Orchis Mascula and the Irish Orchid are the first to bloom. The Irish orchid is also known as the Dense-Flowered Orchid. It is a small orchid with densely-packed and cream-coloured flowers.

The plant has an astonishing geographical distribution. In the north of Europe, it only grows in a few limestone localities in the west of Ireland. The orchid otherwise grows further south in the world in regions such as the Mediterranean and North Africa. Its range also extends east as far as the Ukraine.

Irish Orchid is known as a Lusitanian flower – part of a tiny group of Mediterranean plants native to Ireland but absent from Great Britain. Lusitania is the Latin name of a former Iberian Roman colony which corresponds to most of modern day Portugal and part of Spain. The Burren is the only region in the world where the Irish Orchid and Spring Gentian grow together!


Mountain Avens is a member of the rose family. It is an Arctic plant which occurs in montane regions in the northern hemisphere. It is called Dryas Octopetala in Latin. The octopetala part of the name is explained by the fact that most specimens have 8 petals. As the leaves are oak-like, dryas also features in name. There is a poached egg look about the flower. It is the national emblem of Iceland.

Mountain Avens, The Burren, County Clare, Ireland

Mountain Avens, The Burren, County Clare, Ireland

The rootstock is quite woody and some define the plant as a shrub. The Burren uplands were treeless in the 19th century due to immense pressure on the land by a large and desperate population. In fact the pressure was so great that the rootstock of the Avens was being harvested for fuel for the fire. It must have been very labour-intensive and desperate work… all also in the context of a potato famine (1845-49) which ravaged the region. Mountain Avens, just like Spring Gentian, grows enigmatically at sea level in the Burren.

© Text by Tony Kirby / Images by Carsten Krieger

The Church of Inion Bhaoith


I had the immense pleasure of visiting the ancient parish church of Killinaboy not once but twice this week. On the first occasion I was part of a group of local tourism providers which was led by the inimitable Galway archaeologist/guide Christy Cunniffe. On the second occasion I myself was guiding an A.T.G.I. (Approved Tour Guides of Ireland) group. Guide guiding guides.

The visits were a pleasure for two reasons: firstly, although Killinaboy is my adopted home place, I rarely frequent the church in my capacity as tour guide. The second reason is that the site visits impressed upon me the wealth of heritage housed there – ancient church, Romanesque art, round tower remnants, double-armed cross, sheela-na-gig, bullauns (basin stones) re-invented as grave markers…as well as a rich mix of medieval vaults, headstones, grave slabs, tombs and wall plaques.

The site is immaculately maintained by the enthusiastic Killinaboy History and Heritage Group. The church had been choked with ivy. Thanks to herculean work by the local group, the ivy has been removed and the splendour of the stone fabric is visible again. The same group is also responsible for the excellent information display board on the history of the parish which is located at the entrance to the site.

The group has also been active in print having published Killinaboy & Coad Graveyards – a remarkable alphabetical inventory of the graves at the Killinaboy site and the neighbouring historic church site of Coad.

The Killinaboy site is dedicated to Inion Bhaoith an obscure saintess from the Early Medieval period (400-110 A.D.) in Ireland.
According to tradition she founded a monastic community on site in the 7th century A.D. The oldest part of the extant church is said to date from the 11th century.  The church was repaired for Protestant worship in the 1720s.

The site is located on elevated ground in close proximity to the river Fergus. The eminent local historian Michael Mc Mahon maintains the Early Medieval monastery would have had a footprint of up to 800 acres. This landscape context of the monastery has been diminished as the busy regional road R476 passes within metres of the church.

I would like to share just five of the many cultural highlights from the church of St Inion Bhaoith.

The O’Hehir wall plaque 1711.


North-west part of interior.

Inscription –  Loghlen Reach O’Hehir’s tomb finished by his son Andrew  O’Hehir ER in VV 1711.

One of the many funerary monuments dedicated to the Catholic gentry in the church. The O’Hehir vault is located below the plaque.

Thanks to Oonagh O’Dwyer for identifying the plant growing on the plaque. It is navelwort or wall pennywort Umbelicus rupestris . Its rounded leaves have a navel-like dimple in the centre.

Navelwort is highly appetizing and full of goodness! The plant is also used as a homeopathic remedy.
It blooms in May and the spiked flowers are a striking accent on the landscape. Navelwort grows on rocks, walls and hedge banks.

The plaque and the plant make for a neat juxtaposition of cultural and natural heritage.

Killinaboy & Coad Graveyards. Killinaboy History and Heritage Group.

Buíochas le Oonagh Dwyer (Thanks to Oonagh). Oonagh is based in Lahinch and leads highly acclaimed wild food walks in the region

Detail from O’Flanagan wall plaque 1644. Image by Tony Kirby.


North-east part of interior.

Inscription – I H S INRI 1644 under these carved marble stones lieth Connor O’Flanagan’s body and bones which monument was made by Anabel his wife
Orate Pro Eislaus Deo

The impressive funerary monument (plaque and burial plot) includes a primitive crucifixion scene in relief.

Connor O’Flanagan was one of the leaders of the 1641 Catholic insurrection – a rebellion by the Irish Catholic gentry and clergy against the English administration in Ireland. The Confederation was subsequently joined by English royalists.
However, it was routed by Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army in the 1849-53 war. The land in Ireland was appropriated to Cromwellian adventurers and soldiers after the Cromwellian war.

The Parish of Corofin A Historical Profile . Michael Mc Mahon. Michael Mc Mahon 2013.
Killinaboy & Coad Graveyards. Killinaboy History and Heritage Group.

Detail from the Blood grave slab 1760. Image by Tony Kirby.


Eastern half of interior in a central position.

Inscription – Here lies the body of Mr Matthew Blood the elder who died the 29th day of September 1760 in the 85th year of his age.

The slab also features a carving of the god of the sea, Neptune, with a three pronged spear. The Bloods were English settlers who acquired lands in the parish at the end of the 1500s.
Matthew was probably the grandson of Neptune Blood who was vicar-general of the diocese of Kilfenora in the late 1600s.

Neptune was adamant that the insurgents burned his fortified dwelling and displaced him during the 1641 rebellion. The dwelling in question is An Cabhail Mór whose ruins stand today on the edge of the river Fergus a short distance from the church. The church and the Blood residence enjoyed inter visibility.

The proximity of the O Flanagan plot and the Blood slab in the church are amusing given the fact that the two families were on opposite sides during the 1641 conflict. Enemies in life, close in death!

The Bloods were Protestant ascendancy landlords. Matthew’s burial here in the 1760 is explained by the fact that the church was transformed from Catholic to Protestant in the 1720s.

The last straw for the Bloods in the parish was probably the savage murder of William Blood in 1831 by a secret society in County Clare called the Terry Alts. The Terry Alts was one of many such societies in Ireland in the period 1760s-1830s which violently opposed the harsh dominion of the tiny landowning ascendancy.

The Parish of Corofin A Historical Profile . Michael Mc Mahon. Michael Mc Mahon 2013.
Killinaboy & Coad Graveyards. The Killinaboy History and Heritage Group.

Kilnaboy Church

Killinaboy Church; Western gable with double armed cross.


On western gable of church facing the R476 road.

Double-arm crosses date to the start of 2nd millennium A.D. and are found at ecclesiastical sites across medieval Europe. The crosses were a device used by the church to tell pilgrims that the site contained a relic of the true cross of Christ. Pilgrimage was an important source of revenue to the church and the cross was designed to attract the pilgrims.

The cross at Killinaboy is off-centre on the western gable of the church. Archaeologists Peter Harbison and Christy Cunniffe suspect that the cross was originally set over the trabeate doorway of a smaller church on site and that it went off-centre with the church re-build.

Art and architectural historian Rachel Moss (T.C.D.) knows of only one other such cross which survives in Ireland. It is made of metal and was located at Kilkenny West, County Westmeath. The cross is now on display in the National Museum of Ireland.

The Double-Arm Cross on the Church Gable at Killinaboy. Peter Harbison. North Munster Antiquarian Society Journal (volume 18, 1976).

Buíochas le Rachel Moss. (Thanks to Rachel).


About ten metres north of north wall of church.

Round towers were built at ecclesiastical sites in Ireland from the 900s to the 1200s. Scholar George Cunningham maintains that 90 examples survive – 65 intact and 25 degraded. Theory and controversy continue to rage regarding the functions of the towers. A round tower is known in Gaelic as cloigteach suggesting that the towers were used in part as belfries. Other plausible uses according to Cunningham are pilgrim landmark, refuge at times of strife and desire by the religious community and its royal benefactors for prestige.

The intact towers extend to about 30 metres in height. The Killinaboy tower is only 4 metres high. According to local tradition the notorious Cromwellians severely damaged the structure with their canon. No historical evidence has emerged yet to support this allegation.

There is evidence of only two other round towers at monastic sites in the Burren region – the intact tower of Kilmacduagh in south-east Galway and the one at Noughaval (no longer extant) a few miles north-west of Killinaboy.

Irish Round Towers. Roger Stalley. The Irish Treasure Series 2000.
Round Towers and Tall Tales. George Cunningham. Irish Times article June 2014.


A few metres west of the west gable of the church.

A modern boundary wall has been built over the stand. The previous wall was located nearer the modern road R476. A stile would have allowed access to the site. The pall bearers would have rested the coffin on the stand as they entered the site through the stile. I have read several accounts of the Killinaboy site but have not noted thus far any reference to the stand.

The stand is a humble but precious part of our funerary story.

Anne Ridge discusses the use of coffin rests in her book Death Customs in Rural Ireland Traditional Funerary Rites in the Irish Midlands published by Arlen House (2009).

Archaeologist and field monument advisor at Galway County Council, Christy Cunniffe, is familiar with several coffin stands spread across counties Galway, Mayo, Offaly and Tipperary.

Fragment of Romanesque stone. Image by Tony Kirby


Cornerstone of south doorway (internal).

This is in fact a fragment of a carved stone. It features a Romanesque carving of a mythical animal. The piece is located within the church as a cornerstone of the south doorway.

The Romanesque architectural style prevailed in Europe during the period 900-1200 A.D. The style became widespread in Ireland in the 1100s – a period which coincided with ecclesiastical reform and the setting up of the Irish church along European diocesan lines. The Romanesque was characterised by round arches, vaulting and decorative sculptures.

The nearby Temple Cronan in Termon, Carran features a fine array of sculptures – human and animalistic.
The carved stone at Killinaboy would have enjoyed a more prominent position in the building in the past. The location of the other part of the stone is not known.

Sheela Na Gig, Kilnaboy

Doorway with Sheela-Na-Gig.


Above south doorway of church.

A sexual carving known as a sheela-na-gig is located over the south doorway of the church. There is no consensus regarding the origins of the term sheela-na-gig.

The carvings are usually distinguished by an unflattering portrayal of a woman with prominent genitalia. They occur in Ireland on buildings which date from the 1200s to the 1600s. The carvings may serve to warn against the sin of lust when found at church sites. On the other hand, they may functions as talismans or protective icons when found on secular buildings such as tower houses or town walls.

However, it is fair to say the functions of the carvings remain hotly disputed. Other possible functions include pagan god survival and fertility figure.

The icon at Killinaboy is made of limestone and its features are becoming progressively vaguer due to dissolution by rainwater.

Ireland has the greatest number of surviving sheela-na-gig carvings. McMahon and Roberts, authors of The Sheela-na-gigs of Ireland and Britain , cite 101 examples island-wide.

There are 5 sheela-na-gigs recorded in County Clare – 2 in the Burren and 3 in the south east of the county.
The second carving in the Burren is located at Ballyportry castle just outside Corofin. There are also carvings at Bunratty castle and Clenagh castle (west of Sixmilebridge). Some reader may help me identify precisely where the fifth County Clare example is!

© Text by Tony Kirby / Images by Carsten Krieger

Abandoned Beauty

Tyrone House

I got a short back’n’sides yesterday in Atlas Barbers, a Moroccan barber shop in Kilcolgan. Kilcolgan is in County Galway on the N18 road between the cities of Galway and Limerick.

After the fine cut, I started drifting home south along a minor road. Two miles west of the village, I came across the abandoned beauty of the 18th century Tyrone House.

The occupiers were the St Georges and they owned more than 50,000 acres in the region at one time. Aristocratic kingpins of large parts of south-east Galway when Ireland was under British rule.

The elevated setting is stunning. The house faces south towards the Atlantic Ocean and the limestone hills of the Burren. The rear of the dwelling looks north onto the estuary of the river Kilcolgan.

Tyrone House

Tyrone House is three storeys over basement. The basement would have housed the kitchen, store rooms and very basic accommodation for the servants. It was an invariably dark and smoky space and did not enjoy exotic views! Rough vegetation and scrub are now thriving in the basement of the Tyrone ruin. (Image 3).

The I.R.A. burned the house in 1921 during the War of Independence (The house had already been abandoned by the St Georges in 1905). The I.R.A. suspected that Tyrone House was being used by the British military, the Black and Tans.

Some of the St Georges are interred in the St George mausoleum at the nearby St Sourney ecclesiastical site, Drumacoo:  A House of Death in the West

The Irish Georgian Society (I.G.S.) is a membership-based organisation which aims to preserve and raise awareness of Ireland’s architectural heritage and decorative arts. Many fine houses have been saved through the excellent work of the society. I.G.S. tried to purchase Tyrone House in the early 1970s but regrettably the purchase did not come about.

Tyrone House

The deserted dwelling is so many things. It is a monument to colonialism and inequality; it is compelling evidence of the greatness of 18th century Irish architecture; it is an intrinsic link to the modern history of Ireland…

Long may Tyrone House stand under the Irish skies.

© Text by Tony Kirby / Images by Carsten Krieger

A Finnish Farmer in Kilfenora

Burren Freerange Pork

Immigrant communities arriving in Ireland by boat around 6 millennia ago brought with them the most radical ecological experiment known to mankind – agriculture. The revolution consisted of cultivating cereals and husbanding cattle, sheep, goats and pigs.

Down the millennia, pigs were reared free range in Ireland. Most Irish households kept a pig right up to the start of the 20th century. To this day pig meat, (pork, ham and bacon), is the most consumed meat in Ireland.  However, it is the factory farming of pigs which is now dominant.

The industry here is highly intensive with the vast majority of pigs reared on factory farms.  The animals are kept inside large sheds with no access to outdoors. The crowded and barren conditions make the animals disease-prone with the result that antibiotics are widely used. This type of farming is not good for animal welfare or safety and quality of food. Most of the producers have a narrow focus on profit whilst the consumer is enticed by the prospect of cheap food.

Only a small number of pigs are kept on free-range or organic farms. These pigs have access to the outdoors and they also have a shed for warmth and to keep dry. Thankfully free-range/organic pig rearing is now experiencing a modest revival. The number of individuals applying to the Department of Agriculture for permits to keep pigs has been rising steadily from a low base ever since the economic crash of 2007.


Eva Harald is a free-range pig farmer in County Clare. She rears the animals on her farm near the village of Kilfenora
Eva is originally from a town called Jakobstad on the west coast of Finland. She is a member of the linguistic minority of mother tongue Swedish which account for 6% of the Finnish population.

Eva’s husband Stephen Hegarty is a part-time conservation beef farmer. The couple has a 30 acre farm and their cattle indulge in the ancient local tradition of out wintering on land they have near the great medieval icon of Leamaneh Castle.

Eva got her first pigs in 2007 and started trading as Burren Free Range Pork. The idea was to make more use of under-exploited land on the farm. Eva also knew that the pigs would act as excellent landscape managers/soil enhancers by rotivating the land. She says “the pigs are lovely animals to be working with. They’re like pets really, easy to handle and so cute”.

At the moment Eva and Stephen have 4 rare breed Saddleback sows (adult female). The saddlebacks are quite distinctive – black in colour with a white band. Their origins may be in the West Country of England. The pigs’ diet includes fruits, vegetables, grass and pig ration (daily feed portion prepared from various feeds).

The Saddleback is regarded as an excellent eating pig and is especially prized for its hams and bacons. The “banbhs” or piglets of Eva’s Saddlebacks depart for butchering when they are about 6 months old. Eva’s sausages have at least 82% pig meat content – a much larger percentage than the industry norm. Other sublime products include rashers, ribs, roasts, chops and pork belly.

Burren Free Range Pork has been awarded the much vaunted McKenna Best in Ireland Award for the last 7 years.  John and Sally Mc Kenna’s Best in Ireland Awards recognise outstanding quality in Ireland’s food and hospitality. Eva’s enterprise also features in the Georgina Campbell Ireland Guide 2015-2016. Campbell’s guide is Ireland’s leading independent food and hospitality guide.

You can buy direct from Eva (and get to see the noble animals as well) by visiting the farm by appointment. Eva also sells hot dogs and frozen pork products at the Clare Garden Festival (Ennis) in April each year, the Clare Slow Food Festival (Lisdoonvarna) each May and The Burren Food Fayre (Lisdoonvarna) each October.

In May this year the Burren Food Trail was named as the 2015 Irish winner of “European Destination of Excellence – Tourism and Local Gastronomy” (EDEN) award for developing a tourism product based on the promotion of local food in a sustainable environment. The Food Trail is a listing of quality food establishments in the area. The Trail shows the visitor the path that food takes from field to plate.
Eva Harald is a committed, sustainable farmer who played an important part in the Burren’s EDEN success.

Burren Freerange Pork

POSTSCRIPT : Eva and Stephen launched an exciting agri-tourism initiative on their farm this year. The couple transformed a vintage horse truck into bespoke farm accommodation.  It is called glamping which is short for “Glamorous Camping”. The glamping truck is extremely comfortable and spacious. Bookings in the high season were strong.

REFERENCE : Máirtín Mac Con Iomaire is a professional chef and culinary arts lecturer at the Dublin Institute of Technology (D.I.T.) His outstanding essay The Pig in Irish Culture and Cuisine can be read on the Media/Culture website

© Text by Tony Kirby / Images by Carsten Krieger