Bounty of the Bur­ren

In­land from western Ire­land’s mighty Cliffs of Mo­her, the Bur­ren of­fers a sen­sory jour­ney con­nected to the rhythms and flavours of na­ture.

Virgin Australia Voyeur - - CONTENT - Words SER­ENA REN­NER

Dis­cover the dis­tinc­tive lime­stone land­scape of Ire­land’s windswept west coast.

YOU’LL KNOW YOU have reached the Bur­ren when the County Clare coast­line in western Ire­land turns into stone. (The name comes from the Gaelic word ‘ boire­ann’, which means ‘ stony place’.) Ev­ery­where you look, grey lime­stone is stacked and spi­ralled like a sur­re­al­ist sculp­ture. But the Bur­ren is far from bar­ren, as proven by its UNESCO Global Geopark sta­tus. Just look closer at the rocks — hewn by ge­o­log­i­cal forces over 360 mil­lion years — and you might see marine fos­sils, Ne­olithic burial sites, and pair­ings of Arc­tic, Alpine and Mediter­ranean flow­ers blooming from the cracks in the pave­ment. It’s a land­scape where, as the late Ir­ish poet John O’Dono­hue said, “an an­cient con­ver­sa­tion has con­tin­ued be­tween the cho­rus of the ocean and the si­lence of the stone”.

This con­ver­sa­tion has long been trans­lated by artists, mu­si­cians and writ­ers — from O’Dono­hue to The Kil­fenora Céilí Band to The Lord of the Rings tril­ogy au­thor JRR Tolkien. Now a new gen­er­a­tion of ar­ti­sans is of­fer­ing a fresh take on the area’s story.

To­day, trav­ellers who ven­ture deeper into the coun­try­side from the Cliffs of Mo­her and the Wild At­lantic Way em­bark on a jour­ney for the senses: filled with the tra­di­tional mu­sic and po­etry of the re­gion plus in­spired foods, fra­grances, and fairy­tales.

“Be­cause it’s pre­dom­i­nantly grey rock, the Bur­ren re­flects light con­tin­u­ously; it’s like watch­ing a movie,” says Peter Curtin, as he sits be­neath the an­tiques and old pho­tos adorn­ing his Road­side Tav­ern in Lis­doon­va­rna, one of the oldest pubs in the area. “If you’re a pho­tog­ra­pher, Oc­to­ber is the time to come be­cause the sun has gone back to­wards the Equa­tor. So you don’t have the golden sum­mer light. You have the sil­ver light of au­tumn.

“The Bur­ren is also very spe­cial in terms of the grasses. If you take a piece of wood, about the size of a folded news­pa­per and drop it on the ground, you’ll find 57 dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of grasses and herbs, which you can taste in the beef and lamb. And, be­ing on the edge of the At­lantic, we have crab, shrimp and cod. You are what you eat, you know?”

Al­though the lo­cal food scene has only re­cently started turn­ing heads to­wards West Clare — thanks in part to the Bur­ren Food Trail, an as­so­ci­a­tion of gourmet pro­duc­ers that range from St Tola Ir­ish Goat Cheese to Bur­ren-made Anam Cof­fee and de­li­cious Hazel Moun­tain Choco­late — the Curtins have been in the busi­ness since 1893.

Peter’s grand­fa­ther ran a bak­ery in the tav­ern that was fa­mous for its ‘crusties’ — the butt ends of loaves that were fluffy on one side, crunchy on the other. Af­ter at­tend­ing Gal­way Univer­sity and a stint in the Mer­chant Navy, Curtin re­turned to

Lis­doon­va­rna and opened the Bur­ren Smoke­house with his Swedish wife Bir­gitta. Car­ry­ing on the fam­ily’s tra­di­tion of play­ing with fire, the smoke­house pro­duces Scan­di­na­vianand Ir­ish-style smoked salmon, which is stocked in upmarket re­tailer Dean & DeLuca and has fed the Queen as well as three US pres­i­dents (“the Bush Ju­nior kid, the Clin­ton man and the Obama guy,” Curtin says). In 2015, the cou­ple opened the Bur­ren Store­house to add wood­fired pizza and house-brewed beer to the craic. They also cater events, from the Bur­ren Slow Food Fes­ti­val to a pop­u­lar an­nual gath­er­ing of Tolkien fans.

“Have you tried the fairy beer?” Curtin asks, eyes twin­kling with ex­cite­ment. He quickly dis­ap­pears be­hind the bar and re­turns with a golden ale flecked with float­ing yeast — or fairy dust. He col­lected the yeast from a cone-shaped hill nearby, which, in Ir­ish mythol­ogy, was the strong­hold of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the semi-di­vine be­ings that in­hab­ited Ire­land be­fore the Mile­sians (the sup­posed an­ces­tors of the mod­ern Ir­ish) cast them to the un­der­world. The myth­i­cal peo­ple may have in­spired the elves in The Lord of the Rings — Tolkien was a reg­u­lar vis­i­tor to the Bur­ren — and are as­so­ci­ated with the fairies of the Ir­ish land­scape. “[The hill] is a spec­tac­u­lar place with a fort that com­manded the whole coun­try­side,” Curtin says. “I thought, ‘Where could be a bet­ter place to get my yeast?’.”

Crown­ing the scenic R480 road, the Poulnabrone dol­men por­tal tomb could have been a con­tender. The stone struc­ture, topped with a 1.5-tonne cap­stone, is one of the oldest known me­galithic mon­u­ments in Ire­land — older than the Egyp­tian pyra­mids. Hu­man re­mains that date back to 4200 BCE show ev­i­dence of farm­ing, labour and con­flict as well as cre­ativ­ity. Their use of this sa­cred site over cen­turies con­veys a heart­felt, long­stand­ing rev­er­ence be­tween peo­ple and place. To the east, the striped stone moun­tains and val­leys of Bur­ren Na­tional Park un­fold, stud­ded with ring forts, holy wells, and ex­otic flora that star in later chap­ters of the Bur­ren mythol­ogy. Na­ture guide and au­thor Tony Kirby from Heart of Bur­ren Walks is well-versed in the re­gion’s ge­ol­ogy and botany, and has a fas­ci­na­tion for an­cient ar­chae­ol­ogy. “Three new tombs were just dis­cov­ered [in 2017],” he says, point­ing out a rock grave sprout­ing with wild or­chids. “They’re tem­ples of the dead, but also places for the liv­ing. Some­times you look in there and don’t see the dead at all. You see flow­ers; you see life.”

HEAVEN SCENT

At the edge of Car­ran vil­lage, a sin­gle-lane road sign­posted for ‘Bos­ton/Gort’ leads to The Bur­ren Per­fumery, which has pro­vided vis­i­tors with an ol­fac­tory per­spec­tive on the re­gion’s plant life since 1972. Housed in a rose-cov­ered stone cot­tage, it spe­cialises in sea­son­ally in­spired fra­grances and or­ganic lo­tions, soaps, can­dles and balms de­signed by Sadie Chowen, who came to the Bur­ren more than 25 years ago and never left.

“I ar­rived in Car­ran on a visit to see a friend and felt a very strong sense of be­ing here be­fore,” says Chowen, who was born in Eng­land and raised in France. While not all the in­gre­di­ents are sourced from the Bur­ren, some prod­ucts do in­clude flow­ers and herbs that grow here, and ev­ery­thing is hand­crafted on site. The range is bro­ken down into six scent

cat­e­gories, from the sea­weed and moss­in­fused At­lantic Coast to the Grass­land that smells beau­ti­fully of mead­owsweet, lady’s bed­straw and hawthorn flow­ers.

“I re­ally wanted to rep­re­sent the Bur­ren as I ex­pe­ri­enced it,” Chowen says. “For me, what you are try­ing to do in a per­fume is con­vey an experience, such as go­ing into the herb gar­den in the morn­ing. It has prob­a­bly just been rain­ing and there is wa­ter on the herbs. The Spring Har­vest [fra­grance] is try­ing to crys­tallise that green­ness, that qual­ity of be­ing just so im­me­di­ately fresh.”

Many plants found grow­ing around the Bur­ren — wild thyme, mar­jo­ram, el­der­flower — can be spot­ted in the per­fumery’s gar­dens, to be sam­pled in soups and sal­ads at The Tea Rooms cafe. “This is the culi­nary gar­den,” Chowen says, sniff­ing the backs of leaves. “It’s amaz­ing just how di­vorced peo­ple are from what they eat,’’ she says. “The plants we grow here are the same ones you eat, the same ones you put in your teas, the same ones you put on your skin.”

THE NA­TIVE LAND

The last place to chal­lenge your senses is along the Flaggy Shore, made fa­mous by the Ir­ish poet Sea­mus Heaney in Post­script. The peb­bly coast­line that juts up from Bell­har­bour on the County Gal­way bor­der is scat­tered with fos­sils hold­ing clues to the trop­i­cal seabed that once cov­ered the area, and the glaciers that brought dis­parate rocks, as well as odd plant pair­ings, to­gether. The shore ends at Fi­navarra to the west. On one side of nearby Lough Mur­ree, Lin­nalla Ir­ish Ice Cream trans­forms its for­aged in­gre­di­ents such as gorse, black­ber­ries and hazel­nuts into sea­sonal flavours with milk from its 19th-cen­tury dairy farm across the road.

Walk­ing to the farm, ice-cream cone in hand, a wall mon­u­ment re­minds you of that “an­cient con­ver­sa­tion” be­tween man, sea and land. In cap­i­tal let­ters, next to a painted rain­bow, the wall reads: “The Fi­navarra man loves his na­tive land like bar­nachs love the stone.”

FROM TOP LEFT Wild thyme grows out of the Bur­ren lime­stone; the Poulnabrone dol­men por­tal tomb; a tra­di­tional Ir­ish pub lines a County Clare street; staff at The Bur­ren Per­fumery. OPENER The stun­ning Cliffs of Mo­her.

FROM TOP A horse grazes on the Cliffs of Mo­her; restau­rant of the Gre­gans Cas­tle Ho­tel.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.