In the car today, scootling around back roads on a grey Irish day and looking at the landscape, I was struck by the difference in terrain north and south of the Burren.
The Burren, if you can’t be bothered to follow the link, is a range of spectacular low grey limestone mountains in the north west of county Clare. Stripped down to the bedrock during the last glaciation and washed clean by north Atlantic weather ever since. Okay, there is some grazing up there, but not much. But it is an incredible place to visit and walk. Or just to stare at in case it does something odd and very western Irish, like break into song or say “How are ye? Just visitin ye say?”. Because the landscape does look like it’s capable of speech. Eloquently heavy on the wow factor.
I thought the mountains in BC were something else, but the sense of nakedness these hills convey is far greater. The Rockies and coastal ranges are huge and covered in thousands of square kilometres of dark green coniferous gloom, yet even above the treeline, there’s none of that sense of barrenness that you find here.
The Wilder West of Ireland is very much a post glacial landscape. From the wide open flatness of South east Galway and Northeast Clare where massive rivers of ice once scoured the land down to its bones, south to what I’m beginning to think of as the calving grounds, where huge bergs melted as they clove off the ice sheet, dropping their burden of ice-scoured rock into undersea piles, which in the wake of receding sea created the tightly packed rolling land of east Clare down past Limerick and south to Cork. The grassed over terminal moraines giving a rough poetry to this landscape with it’s flowing river valleys and tightly rounded little hills.
Compared to the gentle rolling hills of my birth, this part of Ireland looks a hard place to scratch a living from the soil. It’s marginal, the bogs providing little good grazing and the grassland not really suitable for large scale growing of arable crops. The many large rocks in the soil pose a hazard to ploughing. We’re talking quarter ton lumps of stone here. Then there are the Turloughs, seasonal lakes, saucer shaped depressions which flood in Autumn and Winter, disappearing altogether in late Spring and throughout the hazy days of Summer.
The Wilder West of Ireland takes you like that, forces you to slow down and breathe, walk wide open, near deserted beaches to stare across untrammelled surf out into the Atlantic. Make you take time to watch the ever shifting colours of the sea and listen to the booming of waves striking high limestone cliffs.
It’s often quieter than a library after closing time with only the cawing of crows and the soft ruffling wind to hone the senses on out here. There are roads where cars and tractors only pass on an hourly basis. The silences can be oddly liberating and disquieting. It makes a man think, so it does.