Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bleak, and Beautiful

One of the most isolated topographies of Ireland is just around the corner from where we're staying. It is called "The Burren," or boirinn in Irish, meaning "the great rock." And that it is.

It is almost two hundred and fifty square kilometers of rock, bordered on two sides by the Atlantic to the West and Galway Bay to the North. And though, to most people, it might seem utterly desolate and grey, when you actually walk this area and look closely, you find it teeming with flowers of every variety, from Mediterranean to Alpine. From afar, it seems like nothing but a vast, ominous, oppressive boulder. But walk into this area, and the number of species of plants and beautiful flowers is just staggering.

Here are two words that were not part of my vocabulary until yesterday: grikes and clints. Grikes are the long, almost perfectly formed fissures that appear in the rocks – almost as if Mother Nature decided to take a plough and till these stubborn stones. Over the years, the fissures have opened up, and yielded area for some of the most diverse plant life in Ireland. You can see from this picture just how incredible is this landscape (take this snapshot and multiply it by miles and miles.)

But the other thing I learned, and it surprised me greatly, is that this supposedly barren outpost has the longest growing season in Ireland? And again, it is related to the rocks: the rocks store the heat of the day, creating a huge area of warmer climes. Grass can grow here year round, which makes the place ideal for cattle grazing as well.

Over the years, we would drive by here with the choir, always on the go, and only once had a chance to stop briefly. But we spent an entire morning here (before lashing rains drove us, soaking wet, back to our cars and into Ballyvaughan). And with this extraordinary amount of time, we could admire the thousands of flowers that were insistently poking their heads from between the rock fissures.

There was one more thing to admire, too. Mile upon mile of old stone walls, walls leading nowhere. They are a testament to the brutality of English domination and their shocking response to the famine years. The Irish were forced to construct these meaningless barricades, a comfort to their lords and masters who wanted to make sure this starving race wasn't getting a handout.

The English are gone now. But the walls remain. Walls, and millions of flowers.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:The Burren, West Clare, Ireland

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