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Limestone Leaping

Stories of Ireland

Story by Korinn Braden
In the area of North- West Clare there is a region known as the Burren. The Burren gets its name from the Gaelic, boireann, meaning a rocky place. Its carboniferous limestone is 300 million years old. It is the antithesis of ‘the Emerald Isle,’ but in many ways it defines this part of Ireland. Its shale and chert belts have survived four successive ice ages. The underlying Connermara granite gives this area extra stability.


My friend, Graham, and I are going limestone leaping by the full moon. Crazy, it may sound, but that usually guarantees a good time. He explains some of the large slabs, when rocked, create a lonely-sounding tone. The moonlight shines on the vast expanse of limestone, producing a bluish glow. Rare, delicate fauna exits with surprising brilliance. The rarity of some species and their decline has prompted local groups to rally for protection of that area. It’s asked that no one remove any plant or tree. Speaking of which, the Burren has very few trees. The limestone is unforgiving. An occasional Clare Tree, or hawthorn, punctuates the landscape. Graham said the trees are also known as ‘fairy thorn trees.’ I made sense to me.

In addition to the fairies, the Burren has long been inhabited by humans. Archaeological evidence documents four hundred and fifty ring forts, along with eight hundred houses, and sixty six mega- liths. Through time, ring forts were used as homesteads, fortification for humans and livestock, and prestige. Like the Guinness ad says, size matters. Ring forts were constructed from earth or stone or both. Of course, in true Irish fashion, they are affectionately known as ‘fairy forts.’


The most famous site in the Burren is the Poulnebrone Portal Tomb. This megalith, characterized by three of more standing stones with a stone atop, is known as a dolmen. The word ‘dolmen‘ comes from the Breton language, meaning ‘stone table.’ These prehistoric tombs may vary in size bur not in form. In Irish lore, dolmens hid runaway bride Gráinne and her lover, Diarmuid. Many of these megaliths are not destroyed, despite grazing inconveniences and modernization, due to continued superstitions.

As Graham told me these stories, fact and fiction, I felt I was away with the fairies. This comment is generally assigned to people who are pissed out of their gourds, but I was sober! We ran over huge slabs of limestone by the full moon, stopping to catch our breath or to create the lonely sound of a barren, rare land.

Many thanks for reference material:
MacMahon, Graham. Personal correspondence, 1987.
McColman, Carl. the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Celtic Wisdom. Alpha Books, Indianapolis, Indiana, 2003.
O’Brien, John and Sean Spelllissy. Clare-County of Contrast. Self published, printed by the Connacht Tribune, 1987.