Discover The Geopark
The Burren Forest is undoubtedly one of the most important archaeological sites in north west Ireland, with over 100 different archaeological and historical features in a relatively small area. Due to its small size the forest is ideal to explore on foot and many of the places to visit are clearly signposted. There is a small car park at the entrance to the forest.
Time: 2 hours
Distance: 8km/ 5miles
1. Cuilcagh Views
The characteristic plateau-topped shape of Cuilcagh Mountain can be clearly seen from the entrance to the Burren Forest. Cuilcagh Mountain is a key area of the Geopark with the border between County Cavan and County Fermanagh bisecting the summit. The mountain is capped with sandstone, the source of many of the large glacial erratic boulders within the Burren.
This circular stone enclosure with two smaller circles of kerbstone within is thought to be a haggard or a ‘hay-yard’ and was in use until approximately 50 years ago. The hay was stacked on a layer of sticks in th two smaller stone circles and each ‘stack’ held about 30 to 40 rucks of hay.
3. Glacial erratics
In the Irish language Burren means ‘a rocky place’. True to its name, there are many large boulders dotted across the landscape of the Burren forest and most of them can be described as glacial erratics. These boulders were picked up and carried along by ice sheets during the last Ice Age, and were left scattered in the landscape when the ice melted. Erratic boulders are very often a different rock type from the rocks they are standing on and the Burren Forest is no exception, with sandstone glacial erratics sitting on limestone bedrock. These glacial erratics have played an important role in the development of settlement in the area as some of them were used to construct the archaeological and historical features.
4. Cairn Dolmen
The Cairn Dolmen as it is locally referred to, is a type of portal tomb and one of the four types of megalithic tomb found in Ireland. Portal tombs are usually made up of three or four standing stones with a horizontal cap stone placed on top. As is the case here, the whole structure was commonly completely covered with much smaller stones to form a cairn. This tomb is thought to date from the Neolithic period, some 4000 to 6000 years ago.
5. Hut sites
In addition to the many megalithic tombs, the Burren Forest also contains numerous ancient field systems and hut sites dating back to Neolithic times. The hut sites are small circular stone enclosures (approximately 1.5m in diameter) often found grouped together. The field systems associated with the hut sites are identified as Neolithic as they are completely different from the very regular field patterns that have been constructed in more recent times. Neolithic field systems often radiate out from settlement sites and tend to be more ‘organic’ in their shape.
6. Rock art
The boulder signposted as ‘rock art’ is covered with markings known as cup and ring marks. This type of prehistoric art takes the form of a concave depression, no more than a few centimetres across surrounded by a concentric ring or rings. It is commonly referred to as Atlantic rock art as it is found along the Atlantic coast in Ireland and in other parts of Europe such as Northern England, Scotland, Brittany (France), Portugal, and Galicia (North West Spain). There are other fine examples of rock art in the Burren Forest and indeed elsewhere in the Geopark.
7. Farmstead and limekiln
The farmstead that dominates the centre of the Burren Forest was abandoned around 50 years ago giving us some indication of the way that people lived in this part of Ireland up until very recently. The site itself includes a farmhouse (almost completely ruined), a pig cró (or outhouse), a cattle byre and a stone enclosure. Associated with the farmstead is a limekiln used to produce quicklime for farm purposes. It is set away from the farmstead due to the toxic gases given off during the production of quicklime.
8. Calf House
Now part of the farmstead and of the stone enclosure wall, the Calf House was used as a shelter for cattle when the farm was in use. The structure is however much older and would have originated as a Neolithic portal tomb, similar in nature (but not in size) to that found at the Cairn Dolmen. The original portal tomb had three standing stones topped with a much larger horizontal capstone. The capstone is still clearly visible but at some time in the past, the tomb partly collapsed and was converted into an animal shelter. It is thought that the original entrance to the tomb was on the opposite side where the two entrance standing stones are clearly visible.
9. Boulder Grave
The spectacular glacial erratic has recently been identified as a prototype tomb, the first one of its kind found in Ireland. It is described as a modified glacial erratic which has been used for funeral purposes. The tomb is considered to be of international significance as it provides the transition between natural monuments (the glacial erratics) and the built megalithic monuments.
The whole structure was raised, levelled and held in place by chock stones, and a burial chamber was carved out of the limestone beneath. It is now thought that the boulder grave is just one part of a very significant, integrated burial site as there are two standing stones downhill from the grave, a well, and further examples of rock art carved into the boulders lying further down the hillside, all of which form a distinct alignment.
10. Giant’s Grave
The Giant’s Grave is one of the most spectacular sites in the entire Burren Forest. It is a wedge tomb located on an elevated site, indicating its significance. The name wedge tomb comes from the shape of the structure as the main chamber decreases in height and width from the front. It is thought to have been constructed during the Late Neolithic to Early Bronze Age (approximately 4000 years ago). The name Giants Grave comes from the folklore associated with the site that tells of two young giants named Lugh and Lag who both loved a young female giant. In an attempt to impress the young lady they challenged each other to jump over a wide chasm (see Giant’s Leap Dry Valley), but in a fit of bravado Lag thought that he could jump over backwards, and fell to his death in the chasm below. It is said that Lag was buried in the wedge tomb beside the chasm. It is not known whether Lugh was successful in winning the attractions of the young female giant.
11. Promontory Fort
Perched on one of the low cliffs within the forest is a small promontory fort. The fort is thought to have been constructed during the Iron Age (Celtic times) approximately 2000 years ago. It is 30 metres at its widest point, is triangular in shape with a 20 metre cliff on two sides and on the obvious approach side there is a substantial wall. These structures were generally used as a fortified refuges or defended settlements exploiting the natural defensive advantages of the landscape.
12. Giant’s Leap Dry Valley
The Giant’s Leap Dry Valley was formed by a small river that has long since disappeared. It is located directly behind the Giants Grave wedge tomb and the two have long been connected in local folklore. The limestone geology of the area means that dry valleys are common place but the Giant’s Leap is slightly different in that there is no obvious upland source of water. The valley is part of one of the largest limestone depressions in Ireland and it is thought that the uplands that originally fed this river were removed by the erosive power of ice during the last Ice Age.