The name Burren comes from the Irish word boireann. It means “a place of rocks.”
And that’s what the Burren is, a vast limestone deposit. The Burren is an enormous glaciated karst in northwestern County Clare, Ireland. Depending on whose measurements you use, the Burren is between 97 and 500 square miles. Either way, that is vast.
The Burren is a huge porous limestone deposit. The limestone pavements are separated by clints, deep fissures. Water drains into these cracks and creates caves, forming an extensive network. More than 31 miles have been mapped.
The limestone of the Burren is honeycombed with caves.
Poll an Ionain is a limestone cave near Doolin in County Clare.
The longest free-hanging stalactite in Europe can be seen there. Depending on what you read, it may be over 30 feet long.
These caves are still active. Streams, rivers, even waterfalls run under the Burren. The Caher River runs mostly under the Burren and flows into the sea at Fanore. Aillwee Cave may be the oldest cave in the Burren.
Aillwee Cave was discovered in 1944 by a local farmer. He didn’t tell anyone about the caves until 1973.
Cavers found a much older cave than others in the area. They have explored up to 3,379 feet.
As soon as they saw Aillwee Cave, they could see the potential for a show cave. By 1976, it had opened to the public. The public tour has 980 feet of cave passage, nearly a third of the cave. The tour includes extraordinary stalactites, stalagmites, and other rock formations.
Cave explorers also found traces of brown bears, which has been extinct in Ireland for more than a thousand years. Brown bears hibernated in Aillwee Cave, where the temperature stays at 50 degrees Fahrenheit all year.
There is also a café and gift shop.