The Burren-Ireland’s Moonscape.

In  the  heart  of  Ireland’s  green  and  rural County Clare lies an amazing landscape of rock  and  stony  outcroppings,  a  limestone weirdness  that  looks  as  if  you  have  just stepped onto the moon. It’s called the Burren,  from  the  Irish  word  boirreann,  which means  “a  rocky  place.”  What  an  understatement.

This  strange  260  sq.  km  (100-sq.-mile) region  of  naked  carboniferous  limestone once  lay  under  a  prehistoric  tropical  sea; over the next 300 million years, decaying shells  and  sediment  hardened  into  rock, thrust  to  the  surface,  and  lay  exposed  to pelting  Irish  rains  and  scouring  winds. Today you can drive around and gaze over massive  sheets  of  rock,  jagged  boulders, caves, and potholes, punctuated with tiny lakes and streams as well as ancient Stone Age burial monuments. Get out of your car to explore, though, and you’ll see that it’s not  all  just  rocks:  Something  is  always  in bloom, even in winter, from fern and moss to   orchids,   rock   roses,   milkwort,   wild thyme,  geraniums,  violets,  and  fuchsia. The  Burren  is  also  famous  for  its  butterflies,  which  thrive  on  the  rare  flora.  The pine marten, stoat, and badger, rare in the rest of Ireland, are common here.

A good place to begin your exploration is at the Burren Exposure   on  Galway  Road  4km  (2 1 / 2   miles) north  of  the  Galway  Bay  village  of  Ballyvaughan. This 35-minute multimedia exhibition tells you all you need to know about the  extraordinary  natural  wonders  and historical  legacy  of  the  Burren.  If  you’re coming from the south or west, however, get your introduction in the historic village of Kilfenora at the Burren Centre, R476 ,  which  has  landscape models, displays on flora and fauna, and an audiovisual “walk through time.”

Drive     along     corkscrewing     R480, between    Corofin    and    Ballyvaughan, through the heart of the landscape, or bet-ter yet, hike a portion of the 26-mile Burren   Way   footpath,   signposted   from Ballyvaughan to Liscannor, near the Cliffs of  Moher .  A  wide  swath  of  the  area bordered  by  Corofin,  Lahinch,  Lisdoonvarna, Ballyvaughn, and Boston has been designated the Burren National Park; it has no official entrance, so find a place to park and begin rambling around the lime-stone  terraces  and  shale  uplands.  The area  is  particularly  rich  in  archaeological remains  from  the  Neolithic  through  the medieval  periods—dolmens  and  wedge tombs   (approx.   120),   ring   forts   (500), round   towers,   ancient   churches,   high crosses,  monasteries,  and  holy  wells  are all noteworthy. It’s an eerily different sort of  place  that  the  kids  will  remember  forever.