Sunday, 7 July 2013

Caves & Ancient Monuments

"Breacan Cottage" is so called because there is a holy well in one of the adjoining fields called "Tobar Breacain"(Gaelic). Holy wells are probably the oldest sacred sites in the country, being revered in the millennia before Christianity. Many of the traditions and sites of these wells have their origin in pagan times.

View of the well from our room this morning

Making my way through the thistles and blackberry's in the paddock to get to the well.

So nice to see one of the original sacred well's not commercialised and left in it's natural beauty

Our first visit of the day was Aillwee Caves the most famous of the many thousands of ancient caves beneath the karst landscape of the Burren in northwest County Clare, Ireland. The name Aillwee is derived from the Irish Aill Bhuí which means "yellow cliff". Perched high on its Burren terraced mountain side with what has to be one of the most spectacular views of Galway Bay. You take a stroll through the beautiful caverns – over bridged chasms, under weird formations and alongside the thunderous waterfall!

We then stopped at Ballyallaban Baile Albóin, (the town of the Scotsman), was once part of landscape which had a thin covering of soil on which grasses, shrubs and trees thrived until time, weather and prehistoric people denuded the surface, leaving the lunar-like region of today. The limestone pavementsare vulnerable to the mild acid found in rainwater which seeps through to feed underground rivers and streams that have, in turn, created pools, lakes and countless caves in unique world beneath the surface of the Burren, Above, Alpine, Artic and Mediterranean Plants flourish within limestone fissures or grykes.

A large is of this rock surface then all of a sudden it stops and you have green hills once again.
One of Ireland's most famous prehistoric grave sites, Gleninsheen lies south of Aillwee Caves. It's thought to date from 4,000 to 5,000 years ago. A magnificent gold torque was found nearby in 1930 by a young boy called Paddy Dolan, who was hunting rabbits. Dating from around 700 BC, the torque is reckoned to be one of the finest pieces of prehistoric Irish craftwork and is now on display at the National Museum in Dublin. This fine little wedge tomb dated around 2500 BC lies on the limestone uplands of the Burren in north-west Clare, a few kilometres south of Ballyvaughan. Wedge tombs are named for their wedge-shaped plan: they are narrower and lower towards the rear. In this region excellent large slabs are readily available on the surface crag, so many wedge tombs like the one at Gleninsheen are built with a single large slab forming each side and a single great roof-stone. This gives a special neatness to these monuments especially as the tops of the sidestones are chopped to a straight line. The entrance of Gleninsheen points roughly towards the west, while the magnificent Poulnabrone dolmen, as most other Irish portal and court tombs, are generally built facing to the eastern half of the compass. In 1932, in a rock crevice near this area a farmer found the famous Gleninsheen Collar: a 31cm gold gorget, probably a neck ornament, dated to about 700 BC and now on display at the National Museum in Dublin.

Poulnabrone Dolmen (Poll na mBrón in Irish meaning “hole of sorrows”) is among the most famous landmarks in the Burren. The remarkable image of the sun setting through the Dolmen is one of those most commonly associated with the area. The Burren takes its name from the Irish word 'bhoireann' meaning, 'a stony place' or 'a rocky place', which is a good description for this 350 sq kilometres limestone plateau in North Clare. The rough, intriguing and attractive landscape was formed 320 million years ago under a tropical sea. Later it was shaped by ice, hard weather and, of course, man and his beasts. The many wedge tombs and megalithic tombs prove that people have been living in the Burren for more than 5000 years.The portal dolmen at Poulnabrone, dates back to around 2,500 BC. 'Dolmen' is Breton for 'table', which is what a dolmen looks like - a large capstone on two or three standing stones. The findings at Poulnabrone showed a hard physical life with a coarse diet for people at that time. Among the 20 to 30 people buried there, only one lived to be 40. The population density has varied a lot over the centuries and is presently one of the lowest in Ireland. The people in the area were hard hit in the mid 17th century by the Cromwellian army and catholic landowners were evicted from their land in favour of protestant holders. One of Cromwell's generals, Ludlow, put in words what they thought of the Burren area: 'it is a country where there is not water enough to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, or earth enough to bury him'. The rocks look steel grey sometimes, other times have a purple hue.

The dolmen consists of a twelve foot, thin, slab-like, tabular capstone supported by two slender portal stones, which lift the capstone 1.8m (6ft) from the ground, creating a chamber in a 9m (30ft) low cairn. The cairn helped stabilize the tomb, and would have been much higher originally. The entrance faces north and is crossed by a low sill stone. A crack was discovered in the eastern portal stone in 1985. Following the resulting collapse, the dolmen was dismantled, and the cracked stone was replaced. Excavations during this time found that at least 22 adults and children were buried under the monument. Personal items buried with the dead included a polished stone axe, a bone pendant, quartz crystals, weapons and pottery. In the Bronze Age, around 1700BC, a newborn baby was buried in the portico, just outside the entrance. With its dominating presence on the limestone landscape of the Burren, the tomb must have remained a centre for ceremony and ritual until well into the Celtic period.

The limestone that makes up this area is called karst. The stone erodes in a pattern of long lines and gaps that are caleldkarran. The cracks, known as grykes turn the landscape into a weird patchwork quilt. Under the deep grykes and cracks are caves and underground waterways. It is the youngest landscape in Europe and has suffered intense glaciations, the last occurred as recently as about 10,000 years ago.

Caherconnell Stone Fort is a large and perfect fort 140-145 feet in external diameter, nearly circular in plan. It is 12 feet thick and from 6-14 feet high. The masonry consists of large blocks many 3feet long and 2ft. 6in.high. The inner face is almost perfect. The fort is in its original state. Its position, overlooking virtually all-surrounding areas suggests a defensive settlement. This may not have been defensive in a military sense, but rather for personal security from raiders or wild animals which were among the most common foes at the time. Ringforts such as Caherconnell are thought to have been inhabited from 400-1200A.D. However a description of the site at Caherconnell, in the early 20th century by local historian the late Dr. McNamara of Corofin Co. Clare suggests that the entrance to the fort may have been re-built in the 15th or 16th century. This suggests that this fort may have been inhabited up to the late medieval period. 

The Cliffs of Moher is a designated UNESCO Geo Park. The Cliffs are 214m high at the highest point and range for 8 kilometres over the Atlantic Ocean on the western seaboard of County Clare. O'Brien's Tower stands proudly on a headland of the majestic Cliffs. From the Cliffs one can see the Aran Islands, Galway Bay, as well as The Twelve Pins, the Maum Turk Mountains in Connemara and Loop Head to the South. The Cliffs of Moher take their name from a ruined promontory fort “Mothar” which was demolished during the Napoleonic wars to make room for a signal tower. 

The Stack standing proudly in the water

The perfect wee calf was having a sleep as we walked past

Holy wells can have three diagnostic features. They are the divine water, the blessed tree and the stone. The latter may have a functional use in wellhouse construction whereas a single stone may have magical properties defined by its particular shape. The blessed tree can spirit away ailments of the well habitués. However, the diagnostic features of tree and stone do not feature at all wells. There is a disproportionately high number of holy wells in County Clare about 220. The Burren region in boasts about 45 wells. We visited Brigid's Well the most visited of her well's in Ireland.

Looking down on the well

Enjoying the waters going by in the stream outside out room in tonight's accommodation 

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