Burren History

In spite of the ‘Iron Age lull’ in the Burren, the development of agriculture through prehistoric times in the region continued unabated into the historic period, with new innovations in agriculture and society facilitating an expansion and intensification of farming activity, with consequent implications for the area’s natural and cultural heritage.
This intensification was to reach its peak in the mid-1800s before it tragically collapsed with the onset of famine, subsequent to which the rural farming population of the region has been in steady decline.

The arrival of the Cistercian monks at Corcomroe, and their predecessors at Oughtmama, would also have heralded the introduction of new agricultural technologies, particularly in relation to animal and crop husbandry. This would have coincided with the first real movement into the deeper soils of the more heavily wooded valley and low-lying drift areas of the Burren, far more suited to tillage than the rocky uplands which were the focus of prehistoric farming activity. We see this most clearly in the siting of the Burren’s many churches on the more fertile ground of the Burren.

As with the archaeology of the region, in attempting to elucidate the evolution of society in the Burren over the last two millennia, we are blessed with a very rich and relatively intact built heritage, including over 500 ring forts (mostly stone ‘cahers’), ecclesiastical sites (thought to be the densest concentration in Ireland), Tower Houses, thousands of miles of stone walls, and a fascinating array of farming structures. Among the main attractions from this period would be the three churches at Oughtmama, the Abbey at Corcomroe, the spectacular Cahercummaun ring for and the famous Lemanagh Castle.

This record in stone is supplemented by a strong written record, dating back as far as the Annals of the Four Masters which recorded information from as far back as the early Christian Period, and including the superb record of Hely Dutton and his Agricultural Census of County Clare in 1808. These written records tell a fascinating story, from the Mediaval Period when the Burren contained vast sheep walks owned by the landed classes, to the unspeakable tragedy of the Famine when the land and its people were laid bare. Another deeply interesting chapter in the evolution of this remarkable landscape.