A Week in the Burren

| August 19th, 2013

The Burren Experience, 14 – 19 July, 2013


Sacramental moments of intimacy with God are strewn all around us. These are the daily places of revelation. But we must dig deeply to divine the hidden spring, to mine the immortal diamond”.
(Daniel O’Leary –The Tablet July 1013)

These sentiments sum up for me the experience of time spent in the Burren, West Clare in July of this year. This week was the first part of a course on “Ecology and Religion” which I hope to follow in All Hallows College – starting this September. This first week of the course was directed by Dr. John Feehan, author of the book The Singing heart of the World – Creation, Evolution and Faith.

The Burren is a unique rocky landscape formed and woven over thousands of years between the slow interaction of nature and human activity. It is, above all, noted for its unusually rich flora and fauna. It is also a cultural landscape, famous for its many megalithic tombs built by Neolithic farmers almost 6,000 years ago.

Eagle’s Rock

The work we engaged in – there were about 30 people on the course – was not simply to study its rich flora and fauna but also to reflect on the interaction between people and nature and how that relationship shapes and affects our environment.

Fishing in the River Fergus

In one of his morning lectures John reminded us that God’s first revelation is nature not in the sense that a book might be, but through it  and in it we experience God. It is, he said, “a quickening of the heart-beat” as we pay attention to the wonder and beauty all around us. As part of this reflective space he posed such questions as, what is being asked of us as we are being drawn towards nature? And, who or what is calling?We covered so much work under John’s direction it is impossible for me to do it justice but I offer a few examples.

Birdsfoot trefoil

We found:

  • rare species of flowers and fauna,
  • in the local river Fergus a rich variety of fish and primitive crustacea,
  • evidence of Bronze Age activity as we followed the water-lines to where Bronze Age peoples built their “Fulacht Fiadh”, i.e. their “Cooking areas.

We explored a well preserved Iron Age settlement built around 800 AD at Cathair Chomain, and went to Eagle’s rock and visited the 10th century Church and cell of St. Colman.

The late afternoons were spent examining under the microscope the samples that we found during the day. It was breath-taking to see the minute structure and magnificence of tiny flowers, insects and fish. Through this study, we came, as John so rightly expressed it “to the threshold of words”.  This expression and experience of awe and wonder found an echo in my own heart.

On the programme for the week it said,

Wednesday, “A Pilgrim Path: a day of walking on the Burren”.   


Pilgrim Path

The pilgrimage, a 13km walk across the Burren was a very special day.  It was both exhilarating but also physically demanding.  The weather was very hot and, unusually for the West of Ireland, there was little or no wind, hardly a breeze. The walk started just beyond the famous Poulnabrone, portal tomb and ended with Mass at Carcomroe Abbey.

Corcomroe Abbey

As we walked across the blue-grey limestone we absorbed the silence and the beauty of the flowers that smiled up at us from the clints and grikes, so that, by the time we reached the well preserved ruins of the 12th century abbey to celebrate Mass we really were in communion with those early Cistercian monks who had lived there for almost 500 years.

Our final day was spent in Coole Park, near Gort examining the wonderful variety of trees and shrubs that are found there.

The Burren experience was a wonderful introduction to an in-depth study of ecology and religion which I look forward to pursing in the autumn.

 Claire Mc Grath HFB

For an account of a previous Burren week, click here…