Finding the Burren

Guest Post by Heather Binder Dunbar

Armed with my best companions (my mother Carolyn, my sister Natalie, and my auntie Laurie) I set out to Ireland expecting days filled with discovery and adventure, and evenings filled with wine and conversation. After staying awake for 28 hours,  then sleeping for 14 hours, and drinking copious amounts of coffee, we were ready to seize the day!

Irish Countryside

We filed into the “opposite” car. Auntie Laurie was driving “opposite” for the second time ever, and my mom was navigating. Have I mentioned that my mother has extremely high anxiety riding in the passenger seat? Like, she slams on a fake brake pedal and ducks for tree branches (that mostly don’t exist) and that she may not be the most seasoned person to use apps? We set out to find the Burren, which according to everyone we talked to (and our extensive research) was a *do not miss*. GPS says it’s only 53 min away. Sweet!

After 53 minutes, and two extra hours, we found ourselves halfway down a road – loosely speaking – that was completely flooded, that I’m pretty sure was private property, and also only one lane, with no choice but to back up and try again. On our way back to the beaten path we stopped twice to ask random Irishmen on the side of the road where the Burren is….The closest answer we got was “Well, you’re pretty much in the Burren, but if you want to find Father Ted’s, it’s just up the road…”

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

This is when I took over the role of navigator. We finally make it to…Lisdoonvarna…and stop into the Burren Smokehouse (we MUST be close!) My mother’s foodie friend, Shawna ,  has sent us to meet the owner, Birgitta, and we get to taste some DELIGHTFUL smoked salmon, fresh off the boat and smoked in-house two ways. Isn’t it pretty?

Burren Smokehouse Salmon and Guinness

Now, we can’t wait to try Birgitta’s restaurant! Heard soo much about it. Award winning. Except… it’s closed for the season! Didn’t I say we were looking for an adventure? So we walk to a quaint little pub at the bottom of a very authentic looking Inn (STARVED) and enjoy fish and chips, homemade veggie soup, and more smoked salmon with brown bread and corn salad. Oh! AND we had our first Guinness of the trip…

Heather's First Guinness

Now that we have decided that this so-called “Burren” filled with ancient tombs and magnificent walking trails doesn’t exist…we decide to take our full bellies to Alliwee Caves . Nat really wants to go, it sounds cool, it’s already 3:00 PM. The bartender gives me clear directions…and I’m navigating.  Along the short drive we found beautiful chapel ruins.

Chapel Ruins

And views of the countryside that no picture can do justice… See?

Fence at Sunset, Ireland

After only about 18 minutes or so (because I’m an expert navigator), we get to the caves. They were discovered in 1940 by a man following his dog who was chasing a rabbit. The cave is over a kilometer of passages leading into the heart of the mountain. Our hike reveals an underground river and a waterfall, many bones and fossils, stalagmites and stalactites. After leaving the caves, the GPS and I professionally guided us the other way up the mountain and back towards Adare. It was magical as we passed kilometers of centuries old, hand-built stone walls that once divided property between people and pastures. Here’s a pic from when we illegally pulled over and ran over a ginormous rock, almost popping a tire…

The Burren, Ireland

As the sun was setting, we were navigating breathlessly through hairpin turns of limestone and pastures dotted with sheep and cows and ancient chapels. Soon, we came to a pull-off to take some pictures. Natalie leads us down a path to a portal tomb, Poulnabrone Tomb . It dates back to the Neolithic period of  4200-2900 BC. Excavations found that 16-28 adults and children were buried there, as well as polished stone axes, quartz crystals, weapons and pottery.

Poulnabrone Tomb

It’s funny.  We spent the whole day searching for the Burren, when we were already there. The Burren is not an exact place on the map, an address to plug into your GPS, a tourist trap with an overpriced gift shop… it does not have an entrance that charged a fee, a sign with flashing arrows and lights. It does not bode a singular entrance or exit. It is not a place you find, but one that you discover. It is a magical place, and little did we know – we had already spent the whole day there.

And such is life, it’s never about a final destination, but rather the journey…and in this case, having three beautiful women who will laugh with you the whole way.

Until tomorrow, Ireland.

Heather Colleen Mulligan Binder Dunbar

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