Ice, rain and the oceans joined forces millions of years ago to sculpt Ireland’s rugged limestone Burren landscape.
As recently as 15,000 years ago, this region was covered with ice, gently shaping the limestone terraces characteristic of the area in Northwest County Clare.
Burren, incidentally, is a very fitting name — it’s derived from the Gaelic word meaning “stoney place.”
Despite the rough geology and lack of significant soil, the Burren plays host to more than 70 percent of Ireland’s native plant species. Arctic and alpine plants co-exist alongside Mediterranean species.
Geologists believe the Aran Islands, just off the West Coast of Ireland, are actually part of the limestone plateau that forms the Burren. A land bridge probably connected the islands with Ireland when sea levels were lower.
The area also is believed to have been wooded with much more soil in prehistoric times, however, the human insistence on cutting trees and clearing woodlands had the detrimental effect of exacerbating erosion with the resulting loss of top soil.
Now, it’s a popular tourist destination with lots of hiking trails through fields of limestone pavement dotted with wildflowers and grass.