The Burren

Archaeological / Historical Sites

The Burren has attracted settlers from every successive culture that arrived in Ireland since habitation began, and contains over 2700 sites of archaeological / historical interest, some dating back over 6000 years. This has led to the Burren being described as “one vast memorial to bygone cultures”. 

Burren – map of archaeological / historical sites.

Recorded monuments and structures including more than 130 megalithic tombs, 450 stone forts, 20 churches and 20 castellated Tower Houses.

ByRoute 1 takes in Dough CastleKilmacreehy church, Doonagore Castle, Doonmacfelim Castle, Ballinalacken Castle, Newtown Castle, Muckinish Castle, Corcomroe Abbey, the Oughtmama churches, and Dún Guaire Castle.

ByRoute 12 takes in Kilmacduagh near Gort (Co. Galway) and Leamaneh Castle, Tullagh Earth Fort, Kilfenora Cathedral, Ballykinvarga Ring Fort, Smithstown / Ballynagowan Castle and Lissateeaun.

Although the Burren’s limestone terrain is poor in the preservation of organic remains, it is the abundant availability of the stone that has helped to preserve its multiple monuments from being used as a source of building material in later times.

Poulnabrone Dolmen

 

Poulnabrone Dolmen, by far the most famous and emblematic of the Burren’s field monuments,  is situated 8 km / 5 mi south of Ballyvaughan and 9.6 km /6 mi north-west of Kilnaboy, in the parish of Carran, and is named Poll na mBrón (“hole of the quern stones”) in Irish.

 

It is a portal tomb dating back to the Neolithic period, probably from c.3600 BC, and faces north-north-east, tapering to the south-south-west. It comprising a slab-like, 3.5m x  2m capstone held up 1.8 m (6 ft) from the ground by two slender portal stones, creating a chamber in a 9m cairn. The entrance is crossed by a low sill stone. It may have originally been covered by loose stones and soil. As it stands now, it is a mere skeleton of its former self.

 

Excavations carried out in 1985 found burnt and disarticulated remains of between 16 and 22 adults and 6 juveniles. It was estimated that the majority of the adults died before reaching the age of thirty with the exception of one that reached forty. Personal items buried with the dead included a polished stone axe, a bone pendant, quartz crystals, weapons and pottery. A newborn baby was buried in the portico, just outside the entrance in the Bronze Age, around 1700BC.

 

With its dominating presence on the limestone landscape of the Burren, the tomb was probably a centre for ceremony and ritual until well into the Celtic period. It may also have served as a territorial marker.

Wedge-shaped gallery graves are very common in the Burren and at least 130 of them have been mapped and recorded. They can occur in groups of two or three such as at Gleninsheen and Parknabinnia. These box-like structures face into the west and taper to the east. They usually have two sidestones and one capstone. Sometimes they have two front stones – one permanent, the other movable to allow the burial. Most have been stripped of their former covering and would probably have had large flagstones, set on edge around the grave in a railing-like fashion. A cairn would have covered the whole structure and burial was by cremation

Hundreds of stone forts / cahers / cashels and several earthen raths provide evidence a great prehistoric concentration of habitations in the Burren. Most are obviously of a domestic nature, but some such as Ballykinvarga with its  surrounding ‘chevaux de frise‘ defences or Cahercommane, a triple-ramparted fort sited on the edge of a vertical cliff, must have been extremely important militarily.

Caherconnell & Cahermacnaghten Stone Forts

 

Caherconnell Stone Fort (Photo – Renata3)

 

Caherconnell  Stone Fort, situated 1km south of Poulnabrone Dolmen, is an exceptionally well – preserved example of the stone Ringforts dotted across the Burren.  Although most are thought to have been inhabited from 400-1200, the entrance to Caherconnell shows signs of having been re-built in the C15th / C16th,  suggesting that this fort may have been inhabited up to the late medieval period.

 

Nearly circular in plan, the fort measures 140-145 feet in external diameter, with 12 ft thick walls ranging from 6-14 ft high. The masonry consists of large blocks, many 3 ft long and 2ft. 6in. high. The inner face is is almost perfectly intact.’

 

The position, overlooking virtually all the surrounding area, suggests a defensive settlement. This may not have been defensive in a military sense, but rather for personal security from raiders or wild animals, which were among the most common foes at the time.

 

. The only excavated stone fort in the Burren, Caherconnell also has a gift shop and cafè / restaurant (try the Guinness fruitcake!).

 

The nearby Cahermacnaghten Fort has a diameter of 100 ft and was long one of the country’s most famous law schools, run by the O’Davoren family of experts in the old  Brehon Laws of Gaelic Ireland.

Over twenty churches constructed in the Burren region between the C6th and C12th provide evidence of the spread of Christianity in this once populous area and of the zeal of early Irish missionaries such as Saint Colman and Saint Cronan. All have historical associations, and some feature additional monuments of interest such as High Crosses, Round Towers and historical tombs on their grounds.

Corcomroe Abbey, Kilfenora Cathedral and the monastic churches at Kilmacduagh and Dysert O’Dea should not be missed, while the following also have interesting features:

Temple Cronan. located in the parish of Carran, comprises a ruined medieval oratory / chapel built over a Holy Well; the current structures apparently date from the C12th and C15th, although they may partly incorporate earlier constructions, and on the basis of archaeological evidence, some believe this may have been the site of a pre-Christian / pagan temple. The complex takes its name from either Saint Cronan Mochua (d. 637) or Saint Cronan of Roscrea (d. 640).  Several corbels with carved stone Romanesque human and animal heads project from the church walls, some apparently not in their original location; the south gable has a low doorway with a stone lintel. Two ancient tent-shaped tombs stand in the churchyard; this type of tomb shrine can also be seen at Killabuonia and Killoluaig in Co. Kerry and also St Erc’s tomb in Slane, County Meath. The shaft and base of a Termon Cross can be seen on a ridge to the north-west.  Temple Cronan was probably enclosed in the C12th, when it became a major pilgrimage destination. (Photo by Jim Dempsey / Deb Snelson).

Noughaval church, located in the village of Noughaval about 2.25 miles on a minor road running northeast from Kilfenora, within easy reach of Caherconnell, stands on an early monastic site founded by Saint Mogua,  and consists of a nave and a chapel of uncertain date, mostly in ruins. Its two distinguishing features are the decorated arch over the south doorway, thought to be of a unique pattern, and the ancient ringed cross that stands on a leacht (altar) in the nearby graveyard – it is said that such monuments are indicators of an early Christian site. A market cross stands on a pier at the pathway leading into this venerable church. The walls of the O’Davoren Chapel, built in 1725, can also be viewed.

Many of the Burren’s early churches and medieval strongholds were built on the fringes of the area, indicating that the arrival of Christianity in the region was linked to a gradual change in the focus of agriculture away from the hillslopes to the fertile lowlands explored by ByRoute 1 and ByRoute 12.

 

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