A walk for the weekend: The big mountain feel of the Burren
by John G O’Dwyer
The Burren is a paradox. A onetime unremarkable forest of pine and hazel, it was over-grazing and unsustainable farming practices that created the renowned, but perplexing, landscape we now cherish. These spectacularly degraded karstlands have drawn me back again and again, for nowhere else I know is so much enchantment shoehorned into such a confined space. There is fascination for botanists, archaeologists, surfers, rock- climbers, geologists and potholers, but today I’ve simply come to ramble.
Mullaghmore is an outstanding jewel even within the Burren’s rich treasury. A magnificent swirl of naked, gnarly limestone, it came to prominence some decades ago when proposed as a site for a controversial interpretive centre. A firm believer that the Burren is best interpreted on site and directly by knowledgeable local guides, I was glad when intense opposition put paid to the project. Today, it is the far-seeing opponents of the development we can thank for rescuing this rich, but fragile landscape from the damaging intrusion of modernity.
Setting out towards the immense contours of Mullaghmore, I skirt the wild flower rich banks of Lough Gealáin and follow the helpful arrows up the flaggy hillside. On the stout flanks of the mountain, I cross rocky grykes abundant with plants from the Artic that here alone co-habit harmoniously with their Mediterranean counterparts. Like all limestone areas, North Clare once lay beneath the ocean, and tagging the unsympathetic path, I pass a family where the children are industriously examining pieces of coral and fossilised skeletons embedded within the rocks.
Ascending the crags south of Mullaghmore, an isolated house to the west grabs my attention. It couldn’t be, or could it? I gaze through the zoom of my camera and there can be no doubt – this is indeed Father Ted’s bleakly unadorned dwelling from the eponymous soap opera. And to reinforce this, I discern groups of visitors photographing the lawn where Bishop Brennan rushed back unexpectedly from Rome to boot Ted in the direction of the Clare sky.
An easy scramble then deposits me beside the cairn adorning the summit. Intoxicating prospects, belying the modest elevation of just 200m, unfold in all directions. It’s a startling intensity of colour with islands of intense green, chalk crusted turloughs and eye-wateringly bright terraces interspersing the barren limestone pavements that dissolve everywhere into the distance. Most eye grabbing are the immense contours of folding limestone on Slieve Rua, which seem intent on squeezing the very life from the mountain.
Beyond the summit, I follow the blue arrows towards Knockanes. Above the Glenquin Gorge the route swings left and descends – steeply in places – to reach a rough path leading back towards Lough Gealáin and my parking place. Driving away, I reflect that Mullaghmore offers a genuine “big mountain feel” that belies its insignificant elevation.