Mullaghmore, Burren National Park

Mullaghmore, Burren National Park

Sat 11 Apr - Adare to Galway

What a wonderful day this turned out to be, despite an inauspicious start.

I skirted Limerick city on its ring road, my first stop being Bunratty "Castle and Folk Park". It was a great disappointment.

The castle itself is a 1950s renovation of the 1425 version of the castle. For most of its early life it was home to the O'Briens, Earls of Thomond.

But it's now very commercialised, the folk park is pathetic, and there's not much to see at the castle. I think it exists mainly as a venue for medieval theme dinners, which might appeal to some, but not to me. So I moved on quite quickly.

Have you ever noticed how, when you first become aware of a name, you quickly come across multiple other instances? So it has been with me and COROFIN.

Ireland has six National Parks. I've already visited two of them, Wicklow Mountains and Killarney, and they are both beautiful in a wild, wind-swept way. There are two more on my itinerary, of which the first is The Burren National Park, for which the information centre is in Corofin. But before getting here, I stumbled on two other causes of fame for this little village, which in the 2011 census boasted a population of 689.

The GAA - Gaelic Athletic Association - was founded in 1884 to promote what we might call indigenous sports, mainly Gaelic Football and Hurling, easily the most popular sports in Ireland. The driving force was one Michael Cusack, and the founding patrons were Archbishop Croke, Charles Stewart Parnell and Michael Davitt, which will give you some idea of the nationalist sentiment behind the organisation. Indeed it was thought to be a front for the IRA, and during the War of Independence, on 'Bloody Sunday', 21 November 1920, the Black & Tans opened fire indescriminately on a crowd watching a football match at GAA Headquarters, Croke Park in Dublin.

Which is a long-winded way of asking how can Corofin, a village of 689, be All Ireland Senior Club Gaelic Football Champions for 2015? And not for the first time - they were champions in 1998 too. But when I drove into the village, there was a team getting ready for a game of soccer!

The other claim to fame for Corofin introduces Percy French (1854 - 1920). French was an entertainer, a singer-songwriter we might call him these days. I'll tell you more about him when I get to Ballyjamesduff on the penultimate day of my trip. But for now I'll just concentrate on one of his songs, 'Are You Right There Michael?', in which French has a go at the West Clare Railway. "Sweet Corofin" gets a mention in the second verse. To hear the song, click on the arrow at the left of the bar below:

There are two parts to this story (sorry, it's a bit of a wordy day today!).

First, there was a court case. I've heard two versions of this. Either the railway company sued French for defamation in the song, or French sued the Railway Company for loss of earnings, when he arrived 4 hours late for a 'gig' in Kilkee, he was awarded the STG 10.00 he sought, but the Railway Company appealed.

In either event, on the day of the hearing French was late, but when he explained that he came to Court by means of the West Clare Railway, the Judge immediately found in his favour!

By the way, there's a one-act play by Brian Comerford called "Laughter in Court - Percy French v West Clare Railway" which portrays the loss-of-earnings trial in Ennis Courthouse. It was performed by - you've guessed it - the Corofin Dramatic Society. The play is available as an ebook on Amazon.

The second part of my Percy French story concerns my search for Corofin station. (The West Clare Railway hasn't operated since 1961, so heaven knows when Corofin station closed).

My first stop was the Clare Heritage Centre, another converted former church. Closed!!! (Come back after 1 June.) So I walked down the street to the National Park office.

Ann Bingham in the National Park information centre couldn't have been more helpful, even though my Percy French pilgrimage had nothing to do with her Park duties, and she wasn't a local. But she skillfully and enthusiastically negotiated the historical maps available on the web site of Ordnance Survey Ireland (, found the location of the former station, a couple of kms out of town, and even brought it up on Google Street View - there aren't many places in Ireland Google hasn't been, but in this case it was out of date! The former station, now house, had been repainted!

  • The former Corofin railway station

  • The former Corofin Station on Google Maps

As for the Burren National Park itself, when I finally got there ... What an incredible place! The Park is the smallest of Ireland's six, about 1,500 hectares in size (roughly 4% of the total area of The Burren) but so special, probably unique.

The word "Burren" comes from an Irish word "Boíreann" meaning a rocky place, and how appropriate. An officer in Cromwell's army supposedly remarked, "it is a country where there is not water enough to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury them".

It is essentially a huge block of limestone risen from the sea bed, and then tilted, folded, glaciated, eroded, and gradually vegetated in parts - I remember doing a course way back on the process by which Rangitito, the volcanic island in Auckland harbour, became vegetated, and I suspect this would have been fundamentally similar. Plus there seem to be little micro-climates around the Burren, helping produce a great diversity of plant life. Also, there has amazingly been human habitation for over five thousand years up to around the time of the Great Famine in the 1840s.

I think karst is the general name for a limestone region like this, but there are huge areas or "pavements" of solid limestone, a lot of broken rock, fissures eroded by the plentiful rain, and then groves of hazel and ash ... It's probably easiest for you to browse a couple of web sites to get the full story. I did the 'Green Arrow' Nature Trail, and a few of my photos are in the slideshow below.

The mountain showing the sedimentary layers so clearly is Mullaghmore - same name but different place from the fishing village near Sligo where the Mountbatten murder took place.

Burren National Park

Burrenbeo Trust

Burren in Bloom

There's also an app for iPhone and iPad available here.

You'll see that the Burren is famous for its proliferation of wild flowers. Unfortunately I'm just a little bit too early in the season - all the more reason to come back some time to this magical place.

  • Burren National Park

  • Burren National Park

  • Burren National Park

  • Burren National Park

The CLIFFS OF MOHER feature in virtually every tourist documentary or advertising material about Ireland. And with some justification. So even though they are fairly remote, you get the inevitable crowds and coach tours, and tourist shops, but here the shops are at least built into the hillside so that their ugliness is somewhat camouflaged.

And my timing was bad weatherwise. The last couple of days have been absolutely beautiful, but today the cold, squally showers have returned - I got caught in one towards the end of my walk in the Burren, and another one, much more severe and prolonged, hit just as I was making my way from the Moher car park to the viewing platform.

And I still haven’t managed to find a beanie, which I have been looking to buy since Dublin.

So my photos are misty with sea spray, rain and hail. I was trying to shelter behind a wall, pop up to take a shot and quickly pop down again.

And no way was I going to go up to that other viewing area you can see top left. I don’t have much of a head for heights on a calm day. Yes, I know the wind was on-shore, so it wouldn’t have blown me off the cliff. But I just let it blow me back to the car instead. I needed to thaw out.

It was after 3.30 pm by the time I left the Cliffs of Moher, so I didn't have much time for stops along the way as I headed north towards Galway. But there were a couple of intriguing shots I just had to take.

This first one, the tower by the sea ... I have no idea what the story is.

As for the eye-catching "Save Galway Bay" bicycle, I've investigated that a bit. For a start, the link is, not .com as it says on the floating bike. It's the web site of the Galway Bay Protection Society, and it is really worth a look. It outlines all the good things about the area, and the threats, despite the fact that the bay is designated as a Special Area of Conservation by the Irish Government’s National Parks and Wildlife Service.

The major threat seems to be the proposal to cage-farm salmon on a massive scale, something I believe is being pursued in Bantry Bay too. Not only would this be a major pollutant (huge quantities of anti-biotics, for one thing), but I gather it is hugely inefficient as well, requiring something like 4 - 5 kgs of fish meal to produce 1 kg of farmed salmon, which just means that other species are being caught in huge quantities.

I need to find out a lot more about all this, but my first reaction is that I need to stop eating salmon, which would be a shame.

  • Doonagore Castle

From my hotel room that evening!


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