Here in the Burren, the bare exposed limestone which is up to 780 metres in thickness, covers an area of 250 square kilometres. This landscape retained an element of soil cover following the end of the last ice age (some 10,000 years ago), with a certain amount of birch, hazel and pine forest. There is evidence for tree-clearance on a large scale from the late Neolithic (c. 2800-2400BC), as increased farm activity necessitated opening up grazing pastures and ground for cereal farming. This resulted in depletion of the already patchy soil cover into the Bronze Age.
Human activity has been recorded in the Burren area since the Mesolithic era (c. 7000-4000). The people of this period were hunter-gatherers and their transient nature means there is little evidence of settlement. The first farmers characterised the dawn of the Neolithic period, and it is with this that we begin to see evidence of settlement – habitations, field systems, and the megalithic tombs which are some of the famed monuments of the Burren.
The unusual flora of the Burren has attracted huge interest and attention over the years. Out of 1,400 species of plant in the whole of Ireland, the Burren is home to 1,100 of them – Mediterranean and Arctic Alpine plants grow side by side, the only example in Europe of such a combination. Rare and spectacular plants, such as Lady’s Tresses (Spiranthes spiralis), Bee Orchids (Orphys apifera),and Irish Orchids (Neotinia maculate), grow in abundance throughout the region. All of Irelands native butterfly species can be found here, as well as 100 breeding birds and the rare horseshoe bat. Pine forests give cover to the larger animals including Pine Marten, as well as the more common feral goats, foxes and hares.
Much of the Burren has been designated as a Special Area of Conservation. Visitors are encouraged to enjoy this spectacular landscape, but to respect it: please do not remove stones, pick flowers, or disturb wildlife during your visit.