Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Other Burren

Most visitors to Ireland include "The Burren", Co. Clare,
on their list of places to go due to due to its unique
moonlike limestone surface that glows white in the sun.
Try walking over this landscape !!!!

Burren is actually quite a common name around Ireland
as it simply means "rocky place".

During Friday and Saturday last week I visited our own
local wonder called "The Burren" on the west of Co. Cavan
and symbolically on the North and Republic border near the
small border town of Blacklion, about 45 mins drive from
Sligo and, surprisingly, about 80 mins from Keash where I live.

I am surprised this Burren is not on everyone's "must do"
list of things to do in Ireland, especially as its main feature
is the spring that is the source of The Shannon.
That alone is a beautiful and quite spiritually awaking place.

I was inspired to go there through the incredible photos of
Mike Bunn, who's past work has mainly been with
fashion models and rock stars. Recently Mike has worked
on producing media for the "Briéfne project", a marketing
project to attract more tourists to Briéfne.

Surprisingly, Mike does not have a web site up yet
but an incredible site is about to be launched.

My first day to Cavan's Burren was incredible,
clear blue skies revealing the best of the surrounding
Cavan, Leitrim and Sligo mountain ranges,
a unique cross between the round Wicklow mountains
and rugged Kerry ranges. A couple of showers caused
dramatic double rainbows but, alas, my camera failed me.

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Into The Burren
------------------------

My return visit on the Saturday was dry, surprisingly warm for
a January day a bit misty and not the clarity of view of the
previous day, but still a worthy and abundant day.

There must be 30 or more ancient sites within a 2 mile radius
and on both sides of the border too. Interestingly some of the
farms are cross border. Half of the sites here are on very muddy
farmland and in very bad condition. The rest are nestled in
old cultivated woodland that is completely open to the public
and surprisingly dry underfoot despite the long spell of rain
we have had.

My first stop was to a very intimate fairy tale imagery
wedge tomb, one of the finest examples of a wedge tomb
I have seen in Ireland, despite being incredibly overgrown.
In fact, the growth on and around it adds to the beauty
and it does not restrict access. There's no brambles.
The woodland path to it enhances its mystery.
Overall this is the perfect picnic place,
a place to relax in nature on a summer's day with a good book.

Next stop was at one of the most bizarest tombs I have seen
in Ireland. First, all of The Burren tombs are wedge tombs
except this, a portal tomb with massive orthostats, the props
that the hold up the capstone. The capstone is a very wide uniquely
thin flat stone like the stone from North Scotland that was used
to roof houses there and provide the first paving stones in
London. Its not a boulder capstone like on all other portal tombs
in Ireland.

What makes this odd is that the south side of the tomb has
collapsed causing the capstone edge to fall to the ground.
Someone has come along, probably a couple of hundred years ago,
built a nearby cottage, which is now derelict, and then
built stone walls to fill the gaps around the tomb
to create a barn.
......... and now it's appropriately called "Calfhouse Dolmen"

Each side of the Calfhouse Dolmen are two hills,
both covered in forestry but both covered with unique
parallel extended wedge tombs facing exactly east to west.

The one on the eastern hill, called Giant's Leap, is remarkable.
The best preserved tombs in Ireland have generally been tampered
with, and, to me, New Grange is the worst example of interference.
However, I personally support "upgrading" a site to safely continue
its spiritual purpose and prevent it becoming a dead monument.

The Giant's Leap wedge tomb, though, is one of the best
untampered preserved tombs I have seen in Ireland.
Its so long for a wedge tomb, though.
It is as if it has been extended and added to over a period
of maybe 1000 years.
Wedge tombs normally have a single capstone.
This one originally had 6 capstones, and 5 still survive.
Two are positioned higher than the other three,
hence the theory of later extension.
There is also a very good circle of original kerb stones
surrounding the tomb. Usually these have been "stolen"
for buildings.

Sadly, this tomb's twin on the western hill, name unknown,
has not survived as well. I found this one out of a hunch
that something must be on the hill. There's no sign pointing to it
With this twin the capstones are either missing or broken
and it is very waterlogged. You would be forgiven for
thinking that may be a Holy well.
Interestingly there are the remains of other ancient
structures nearby, such as hut sites.

On the way back to the road there is a sign to
"Hut Sites" so I took a peek at these.
Placed in densish woodland there are the remains of
many moss covered circular hut site stone kerbs,
though they also seem like large stone to be kerb stones.
In the middle seems to be the remains of a fallen
portal tomb with a massive kerb stone snapped in half.

-------------------------------------
Source Of The Shannon
-------------------------------------

After leaving the forestry area of the Burren its was
a couple of miles drive south to the Shannon Pot,
source of the Shannon river. This has a surprisingly large
car park, though I was the only one in it.

There is a large sign warning of car possessions.
This reminds of a problem at leading heritage site
car parks. There are gangs that regularly visit them.
They rarely steal cars or car parts but do seek out
electronics left behind such as laptops, IPods, mobiles,
cameras etc. and will steal them to sell off at pubs later.
Leave no electronics in your car and you'll be ok.

I arrived near sunset and the walk to the spring pool
is a wonderful evening stroll. Water falls on the mountain
above the pool that runs down holes in the mountain.
This water then bubble up into the Shannon Pot and starts
its 290 mile journey through Ireland to Limerick and beyond.

Mike Bunn's wonderful green summery photos are remarkable.
My own shots, being sunset, became full of pinks, purples and
greys of winter. This closed the day nicely.

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Changes To The "Following The Tuatha De Dannan" Turas
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I will now add The Burren and Shannon Pot onto my
"Following Tuatha De Dannan" day turas journey.
In fact, I may start the journey at these places.
Its a wonderful mountain drive from Markree Castle to
The Burren, perfect for sunny mornings.

The De Dannan may not have built the wedge tombs,
but the early Nemedians may have. Because the De Dannan
were descended from the Nemedians they may well have
honored and revered the sites of the wedge tombs.
It was probably the later Milisians that bouldered them to
prevent them being used as ceremonial centres due to their
own preference for stone circles and burials in small cists.

It seems worthy to commence the day with these wedge tombs
as they follow nicely from the previous day's
"Ancient Temples Of Ireland" turas.

A visit to The Shannon Pot is important because water springs
were sacred to the De Dannan, and this must of been one of
their most sacred places.

We will then have lunch at one of the quaint Irish towns of
Dowra or Drumshambo.

The afternoon will be spent around the sites of
Moytura but on the way pass by the "fairy" cairns of
Sheebeg and Sheemore amongst the lands of The Morrigan.

Through Moytura we will visit Labby Rock, view Lugh's seat
on the Hill Of The Giants, pass Lough Na Sool, lake of the eye,
and Heapstown Cairn covering the De Dannan healing well.

We will finish at Keash Caves, hopefully at sunset,
though on the long days of midsummer you may be too
tired and hungry to wait for sunset.

The return to Markree Castle is then only 20 minutes away.

Check out my Turas Journeys day tours

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