Burren National Park
Burren National Park, established in the southeastern corner of the Burren region in 1998 as the fifth of the Republic of Ireland’s current total of six National Parks, is also the smallest, extending over a mere 15 sq km, but contains examples of all the major habitats to be found in the larger area: limestone pavement, calcareous grassland, hazel scrub, ash/hazel woodland, turloughs / seasonal lakes, permanent lakes, petrifying springs, cliffs and fen.
The greater part of the Burren National Park is framed by the Slieve Rua hills to the east and Clifden Hill to the west. The highest point is Knockanes (207m), which continues as a curving terraced ridge to Mullaghmore to the south.
The National Park is home to a wide range of wildlife, including many interesting botanical species and some 2o types of mammal, 89 species of bird, plus amphibians, reptiles and fish (eels and three-spined sticklebacks in some of the turloughs, perch in Lough Gealáin, pike in Lough Bunny and salmon, tench and pike in the Ballyeighter Lough system) and myriad invertebrates.
Mullaghmore (Mullach Mór– “Great Summit”) (180m), formed millions of years ago when tectonic plates colliding far beneath the Earth’s surface bent, curled and twisted limestone into bizarre shapes, is widely regarded as a sort of Sacred Mountain. Its slopes constantly change hue with the play of light and shadow and are transformed by seasonal flowers, attracting bees, butterflies and many other interesting little creatures, plus a herd of feral goats. The craggy summit commands superb views across the Burren. Although not high, Mullaghmore dominates one of the most natural, peaceful and unspoiled areas to be found anywhere in Ireland, free of boundary walls or fences and much loved by walking enthusiasts.
Lough Gealáin is a turlough at the foot of the enigmatic hill; the water, home of evil looking giant black leeches, shines clear turquoise on sunny days.
Gortlecka / Mullaghmor Crossroads is the starting point of anetwork of five waymarked walking routes, including the Mullaghmore Loop hiking trail. Each of the trails are signposted with colour coded arrows. The trails traverse a limestone landscape which can often be uneven, with loose rocks and steep in places presenting various degrees of difficulty.
The site of an interpretative centre the NPWS wanted to erect in the 1990s until forced to abandon the project after strong local opposition led to a landmark High Court decision in 2000 is currently due to become the only formal car park in the whole National Park , intended to reduce parking on road verges. However, Clare County Council has voiced ‘serious concerns’ over the proposal, and matters are currently on hold.
Glenquin is the location of Father Ted’s House, familiar to millions of TV viewers.
Slieve Carran (Keelhilla Nature Reserve) is the location of two more walking trails.
Lough Bunny to the northern side of Mullach Mór (Photo by Dr Charles Nelson)
Lough Bunny, a crystal clear limestone lake that sometimes turns a curious turquoise colour on sunny summer days, is a lovely spot for a picnic and / or a leech-free paddle.
The Burren National Park Information Point, based in the Clare Heritage Centre in Corofin, provides information on the formation, management, flora and fauna of the Burren in an interactive and educational manner.
A Bus service operates on a regular looped route around the Park from the Centre during the summer months
Free guided walks led by experienced guides and covering such topics as Burren flora and fauna, geology and archaeology are also available in the park on Sundays and midweek in season.
The Mullaghmore Experience Walking Centre, founded by locally born Marie McGauan, is located southeast of Mullaghmore hill, and is ideally situated for exploring Burren National Park on foot or by bicycle. The centre offers package deals that include quality accommodation, excellent organic food and half or full day long guided walks of some of the more remote and beautiful parts of the Park, with insight and interpretations on the archaeology, botany, fauna, geology, and agriculture of the local area.