The word “Burren” comes from an Irish word “Boíreann” meaning a rocky place. This is an extremely appropriate name when you consider the lack of soil cover and the extent of exposed limestone pavement. However it has been referred to in the past as “Fertile rock” due to the mixture of nutrient rich herb and floral species.
The Burren region is internationally famous for its landscape and flora. A visit to the Burren during the summer months will leave a person amazed by the colourful diversity of flowering plants living together within the one ecosystem. Arctic-alpine plants living side by side with Mediterranean plants, calcicole (lime-loving) and calcifuge (acid-loving) plants growing adjacent to one another and woodland plants growing out in the open with not a tree nearby to provide shade from the sun. Also found here are certain species which although rare elsewhere are abundant in the Burren. Even more amazingly they all survive in a land that appears to be composed entirely of rock.
We must not forget the enormous influence of the farming community in the region, through their farming techniques they have managed the land in such a way as to preserve the unusual flora and habitats that remain today. Not only have these habitats been preserved by the method of management in the region, they have been enhanced and owe their existence to the farming community.
The Burren covers 1% of the land surface of Ireland and is approximately 360 square kilometres in size. Most of the Burren is designated a Special Area of Conservation to protect this extremely unusual habitat. The Burren National Park is located in the southeastern corner of the Burren and is approximately 1500 hectares (15 square kilometres) in size. The Park land was bought by the Government for nature conservation and public access. It contains examples of all the major habitats within the Burren: Limestone Pavement, Calcareous grassland, Hazel scrub, Ash/hazel woodland, Turloughs, Lakes, Petrifying springs, Cliffs and Fen.
In 1651 a Cromwellian Army Officer named Ludlow remarked:
“of this barony it is said that it is a country where there is not water enough to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury them. This last is so scarce that the inhabitants steal it from one another and yet their cattle are very fat. The grass grows in tufts of earth of two or three foot square which lies between the limestone rocks and is very sweet and nourishing.”
The highest point in the Park is Knockanes (207 metres) which continues as a curving terraced ridge to Mullaghmór to the south. East of this ridge is an area of extensive, low-lying limestone pavement containing a number of semi-permanent lakes. West of this ridge, the pavement sweeps down to partially drift-covered ground which gradually rises again to reach the foot of a rocky escarpment. To the south of the Park, the limestone bedrock disappears under a layer of glacial till. This till area is far more intensively managed for pasture and silage.