Poulnabrone Portal Tomb ©2016 Janet Maher

Poulnabrone Portal Tomb ©2016 Janet Maher

It is going to be so very strange not to see magnificent rocks enmeshed with grasses and wildflowers around me upon return to the states. Time has done that tricky thing in that I feel as if this present will continue now forever. Having done a good bit of exploring and learning over the past three weeks, it may be possible to write a bit about this very special place.

Expert Gordan D’Arcy explained in a lecture how the phenomenon of the Burren was glacially created millions of years ago when all the earth’s land masses were connected. If we try, we can see how the edges of what became eastern North America had once separated from what became Ireland, which had separated from what became England, floating apart. No wonder the landscape and dry walls of the New England states come to mind so often here, and why so many Irish immigrants chose that area of America in which to place new roots.

Erratic ©2016 Janet Maher

Erratic ©2016 Janet Maher

According to D’Arcy Ireland was originally a jagged habitat with higher hills like China has. Changes from about one and one half million years after the end of the first Ice Age forward have resulted in what exists now. The borders of Ireland extended much further too, having been worn back to the cliffs, additional islands and jaggy shores of today. The Cliffs of Moher, for example, had extended about 100 meters further than they do now. What remains is the Burren limestone and granite that has not been washed and weathered away. Ireland had been covered by a shallow tropical sea, as evidenced by fossil imprints in the rocks. Marks in the stone were also created as other stones were dragged across while glaciers receded. Large granite boulders called erratics occur, sitting as if placed intentionally in various parts of the Burren. A fascinating occurrence appears in rocks from snails having eaten their calcium away. The rocks are peppered with regular-shaped circular crevices and sinuous trails.

Inis Oirr, Aran, Flowers ©2016 Janet Maher

Inis Oirr, Aran, Flowers ©2016 Janet Maher

Within the Burren, extending through Galway, are a vast array of plants that exist where they normally would not. Some came into Ireland with previous glacial activity from the north, leaving arctic seeds that thrive where the stone provides just enough shelter and alkaline surface for them to attach. Thin build-ups of acidic soil blown in from neighboring areas such as Tipperary fill in holes in the stone and provide a different environment that can likewise sustain plants. Neutral mixtures between the two support still other types. There are about 950 species of flora in Ireland, some of them rare. Seven hundred of them are found in the Burren. Thirty–two of the thirty-four species of butterflies are also found here.

Aillwee Cave ©2016 Janet Maher

Aillwee Cave ©2016 Janet Maher

All around is the physical evidence of ancient history, layers upon layers of time co-existing with the present. The 5200-5800 year old Poulnabrone Dolman is a tomb that held a royal dynasty of thirty-three people. The area has about 70 of these upright tombs from about 4,000 years ago when the Burren was heavily populated. Archeology work on the Caherconnell Stone Fort revealed evidence of human occupation from several different time periods, including a burial site from the early 6th/late 7th century. The Caherconnell Archaeological Project continues. The Aillwee Cave has been relatively dry for the last 10,000 years but its origin dates back two million. Created from what was once a river flowing above the floor upon which visitors walk, the current dampness and seepage of rainwater from above has been incrementally forming delicate stalactites over thousands of years.

In a small cave near Ennis a recent exciting discovery of bear remains containing evidence of human butchering has placed the existence of humans in Ireland 2,500 years father back in time than was thought–to at least 10,500 B.C. “That is 8,000 years before the Egyptian pyramids were built and 7,500 years earlier than the first Stonehenge monuments.”

That highly evolved Irish septs following Brehon Laws existed from pre-Christian times throughout the many centuries before England’s turbulent colonization calls for the need to study the Milesian clans in parallel with dynasties of much more publicized areas such as Egypt and Asia. The Meaghers were certainly among the notable septs from their original base as abbots at Monaincha and in their surroundings in the vicinity of Roscrea, Tipperary.

©2016 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair