Most tourists flock to County Clare for one of three reasons– the Burren, the cliffs, or to hear traditional Celtic music in the world-famous Doolin or one of the other villages. We had time for only one attraction, and if I hadn’t booked us into a fancy hotel in Clare for the weekend, I would have bailed and stayed in Connemara. A steep cancellation penalty dissuaded me from doing so.

Gregan’s Castle Hotel is featured in the Lonely Planet guidebook in glowing terms. It offers seriously chic cuisine, the kind that has to be described in long paragraphs so you can appreciate exactly what it is you are placing into your mouth. Each plate seems to have been designed by a culinary artist as interested in the overall visual effect as in the actual taste. This is not comfort food. It is like being offered a ride in a Lamborghini when you just want to go for a spin. That said, the hotel is elegant and lovely, looking out over the strangely mesmerizing Burren landscape, a geological bare plate.


How do you describe the Burren? It is a bizarre, rock-strewn, limestone landscape, scraped bare by glaciers, yet criss-crossed with cracks known as “grykes.” The region supports arctic, Mediterranean and alpine plants side-by-side, due to the unusual environment. The limestones formed as sediments in a tropical sea approximately 350 million years ago. The strata contain fossil corals, crinoids, sea urchins and ammonites.

The Burren is rich with historical and archaeological sites. There are more than 90 megalithic tombs in the area, including portal dolmens as well as a number of ring forts. The grykes (crevices) provide moist shelter, supporting a wide range of plants including dwarf shrubs. Where the surface of the pavement is shattered into gravel, many of the hardier Arctic or Alpine plants can be found. Where the limestone pavement is covered by a thin layer of soil, patches of grass are seen, interspersed with plants like the gentian and orchids.


Edmund Ludlow, a commander of British forces in Ireland in the 1650’s had this to say about the region: “(Burren) is a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him…… and yet their cattle are very fat; for the grass growing in turfs of earth, of two or three foot square, that lie between the rocks, which are of limestone, is very sweet and nourishing.


While my wife devoted her morning to polishing a paper for a conference in London, I signed up for a boat ride below the magnificent Cliffs of Moher. The cliffs are Ireland’s number one tourist attaction; they receive more than a million tourists a year. They rise 120 metres (390 ft) above the Atlantic Ocean at Hag’s Head, and reach their maximum height of 214 metres (702 ft) just north of O’Brien’s Tower, eight kilometres (five miles) to the north. The cliffs consist mainly of beds of shale and sandstone; the oldest rocks are at the bottom of the cliffs.


The government saw fit to invest 32 million pounds (nearly fifty million dollars) in a visitors’ centre which purports to explain the “experience,” but for my money, the boat trip below the towering cliffs is far more impressive. Just like our dinner in the bar on the Sunday after all the people who mattered had left Gregans’ Castle. The food was simple, delicious, and needed no explanation at all.

The best things never do.