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My "Best of Ireland" Tour Journal

Chapter 8: Galway to Ennis

KINVARA (Cinn Mhara)
Kinvara is a quaint, relarivley quiet spot. A small stone harbour is home to a number of Galway hookers (traditional sailing boats).

Dungaire Castle, north of Kinvara on the shore, was erected around 1520 by the O'Hynes. The castle is supposedly built on the site of the 6th century royal palace of Guaire Aidhne, the king of Connaught.

A few kilometres west of Kinvara, you reach County Clare and the start of the Burren limestone region.

The Burren region is an extraordinary, unique place. Boireann is the Irish word for "rocky country" or "karst" (after the original Karst in Slovenia). It consists almost entirely of limestone, except for a cap of mud and shale that sits on the higher regions. When you see the kilometers of polished limestone stretching in every direction you'll know why one of Cromwell's generals was moved to exclaim that there was 'neither water enough to drown a man, nor a tree to hang him, nor soil enough to bury him'.

The Burren's bare limestone hills were once lightly wooded and covered in soil. Towards the end of the Stone Age, about 6000 years ago, the first farmers arrived in the area. They began to clear the woodlands and use the upland regions for grazing. Over the centuries, the soil was eroded and the huge mass of limestone we see today began to emerge.

There are at least 65 megalithic tombs erected by the Burren's first settlers. Many of these tombs are wedge-shaped graves, stone boxes tapering both in height and width and about the size of a large double bed. The dead were placed inside and the whole structure was covered in earth and stones. Gleninsheen, south of Aillwee Caves, is a good example.

Ring forts dot the Burren in prodigious numbers. There are almost 500, including Iron Age stone forts such as Cahercommaun near Carron. Unfortunately many ring forts and stone walls have been bulldozed into extinction.

For hikers, the Burren Way runs down through the Burren from Ballyvaughan to Doolin and then south to the Cliffs of Moher.

THE CLIFFS OF MOHER (Aillte an Mothair)
One of Ireland's most spectacular sights, the Cliffs of Moher rise from Hag's Head and reach their highest point (203m) just north of O'Brien's Tower, before slowly descending farther north again. On a clear day the views are tremendous: the Aran Islands stand etched on the waters of Galway Bay, and beyond lie the hills of Connemara in western Galway.
Having made our way around the Republic, we arrived back where we started, in Ennis.

Ennis lies on the banks of the River Fergus. The town's medieval origins are visible in its narrow streets and old shops and pubs. Much of the wooden town was destroyed by fire in 1249 and again in 1306 when it was razed by one of the O'Briens.

The O'Briens, kings of Thomond, built a castle here in the 13th century. They were also the force behind the Ennis Friary founded during the same period. At the height of its fame in the 15th century, the friary was one of Ireland's great centres of learning, with over 300 monks in residence. They were expelled in 1692.

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