The Burren & Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark

Burren Eco Tourism Network:

Airmid Natural Irish Skincare are proud members of B.E.N. Burren Ecotourism Network 

B.E.N. is a network of tourism enterprises with the objective of establishing the Burren as a premier internationally-recognised sustainable tourism region ensuring the future economic and social growth and sustainable development of its communities, environment and heritage. It seeks to support continued training, mentoring and accreditation in sustainable tourism for its members and for businesses interested in joining the Network.

The Burren & Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Geopark:

Go, stand on the edge of the Burren, on its limestone pavement and listen; hear the waves crash into the unseen caves beneath your feet. Then turn; look at the Cliffs of Moher as they rise majestically from the raging sea, and you will realise why this extraordinary region, with its magnificent landscape, has been awarded the prestigious UNESCO recognised Global and European Geopark Status. Discover nature’s rarest secrets and the vibrant life of Ireland’s most unique landscape.

Visitors and local people will tell you, discovering the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark is a truly unique and joyful experience. Whether you come alone, with family or friends, or as part of a learning group, your Geopark visit is one you’ll cherish and never forget.

Whatever your interest, from archaeology to adventure, from geology to botany, there is something at the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark that will stop you in your tracks. The best way to explore the Geopark is to take the time to sensitively wander – by foot or on bicycle. Get up close to nature. Immerse yourself in rich heritage. Discover the local culture.

Taking care as you go brings huge rewards. By leaving the lightest possible mark on our landscape, the beautiful Burren will leave the most memorable mark on you.

The Story of the Burren

The landscape of the Burren has been shaped by geological forces for hundreds of millions of years.

The story begins in a tropical sea near the equator, includes the development of a major river delta, migration and collision of continents, the expansion and contraction of the polar ice caps and last but not least, the rain that sweeps in from the Atlantic.

The rocks that make up the Burren were all formed during the Carboniferous period between 359 and 299  million years ago. This geological period is named for all the coal deposits in North America, UK and Europe that were formed at this time.

In the Burren are there are two major rock types; the lighter coloured limestones to the north and east and the darker siltstones, shales and sandstones to the south west. The limestones which make up the typical bare Burren landscape were buried by the slightly younger siltstones and sandstones which make up the Cliffs of Moher.

The different rock types were formed under different conditions; the limestones, which contain fossil corals, crinoids and brachiopods were formed in a warm tropical sea near the equator, very much like the Bahamas today. The limestones were deposited slowly over a very long period of time, around 20 million years and much of the rock is actually made up of little bits of broken fossils.

The shales, siltstones and sandstones that make up the Cliffs of Moher and the area south west of Lisdoonvarna and Kilfenora were formed much more rapidly from sand and silt being washed into the sea by a major river system which has long since disappeared. Fossils are not common in these rocks although the traces left by creatures that crawled through the mud are readily seen in the famous Moher flagstones.

Shortly after these rocks were formed the entire continent collided with what is now Europe, this caused the rocks ,which were originally horizontal, to become gently folded as we can see at Mullaghmore, in fact all the rocks of the Burren are tilted slightly to the south. The enormous forces that caused the folding are also responsible for the many cracks and fissures the run through the limestone now.

Much later, only about 2 million years ago the ice age started in northern Europe. Huge masses of ice over 200m thick came from the north and north east and scoured the surface ripping up soil and rock and carving valleys and then depositing the rocks and clay as the ice melted. We can see these rocks scattered across the Burren as glacial erratics today. Along the coast there are many rocky beaches where it is possible to find rocks which are not originally from the Burren, these granites, red sandstones and others were carried by the ice from Connemara and east Clare and have been eroded by the sea from the glacial deposits left by the ice.

The last Ice age ended around 15,000 years ago. Since then the rain has been quietly dissolving the limestone and widening the fissures and also forming many of the caves we see all through the Burren. The rain continues to slowly dissolve the limestone today. The combination of features formed by rain and ice are known as a glaciokarst landscape and the Burren is a globally significant example which was awarded Geopark status in 2011.

Let’s have a closer look at the rocks and how they got here..

The Story of the Limestone

It is a warm day somewhere close to the equator and  the crystal clear sea extends as far as the eye can see. The wind is making waves, there  are clouds in the sky. The sea floor is visible through the waves as white and cream coloured patches of sand but there is no land in sight. We are adrift in a tropical sea.

We dive beneath the waves. Suddenly a whole new world of colour and life is visible! There are creatures everywhere; brachiopods the size of small saucers sit in the white mud, like oysters or mussels their two shells open slightly to allow them collect plankton from the seawater. There are mini forests of crinoids; these small stalked creatures are attached to the sea floor but some can release themselves and move for short distances. Their ‘heads’ looks like feathery flowers, waving in the water to collect food particles. There are corals here too, not the big complex reefs that we see along the great barrier reef but smaller clusters and groups attached to the sea floor. Some of these corals are a metre wide, they are the branching colonial corals and the tip of each branch contains a corallite that collects food. There are also smaller individual or solitary corals, they look like small cow horns that have been turned upside down and stuck into the sea floor. Every now and then a fish swims past and we also see coiled shells swimming in the water, these are the Goniatites; propelled by underwater jet propulsion, they are relatives of the Nautilus and related to octopus and squid. They have good eyes and are fierce predators, actively hunting other swimming creatures, they catch them with their tentacles are kill with a bite from their beaks. The sea floor itself is a patchwork of colours, there are some patches of loose white sand, in other places the sand has been colonised by a variety of red and green algae, encrusting bryozoa, and a myriad of organisms known as foraminifera that live in beautiful but microscopic shells.

A closer look at the white sand reveals that the individual grains are made up of tiny shells and fragments of crinoids and other bits and pieces of the shells of dead animals. Every now and then a wave moves the sand, it rolls the grains back and forth and makes ripples just like you see on any beach at home. If a storm comes the much bigger waves  will completely rearrange all this, ripping up living corals, crinoids and brachiopods and moving them along the seafloor for hundreds of metres, eroding and mixing them with other sand until eventually the storm passes and everything will settle back to be colonised again.

These living creatures extract calcium carbonate (CaCO3) from the seawater to make their shells. As they get buried they are cemented together by more calcium carbonate which precipitates out of the water buried with them and binds the grains together. This is how the shells become the grains and fossils in the rock we know as limestone.

The European  Atlantic Geotourism Route:

A new, awe-inspiring trail of magnificent destinations awaits you right along the epic expanse of the Atlantic frontier. It winds an intriguing transnational path from Ireland and the UK, to France, Portugal and Spain over to the Atlantic Islands of Lanzarote and down to the Azores. It links 12 dramatic landscapes that host vibrant communities, rich local cultures and unforgettable visitor experiences.

Discover and protect

The European Atlantic Geotourism Route guides you through diverse territories, countries, habitats, languages and cultures. These stunning destinations are linked together by one powerful mission – to provide the highest quality visitor experiences; helping to power vibrant local economies and cultural activities and, in so doing, protecting these breathtaking and unique natural landscapes.

An ancient and contemporary story

Each destination tells a distinctive, dramatic and enthralling chapter of the story of life on the Atlantic frontier. The tale of how, from time’s dawn to present day – natural forces, landscape, people, culture and ways of life continue to interweave to give physical shape, meaning and mystery to these memorable regions. To illuminate and animate these geologically-rich and bio-diverse destinations for the curious, careful and discerning visitor.

It’s waiting for you

Today, in these wonder-filled places, rare and outstanding sustainable tourism offerings live in harmony with local farmers, craft workers, entrepreneurs, artists and artisan food producers, each strengthening the other. And now this European Atlantic Geotourism Route is yours to explore, to experience – and to never, ever forget.

Burren & Cliffs of Moher Geopark