The Naturalist in County Clare

From the Illustrated Dublin Journal Volume 1, Number 36, May 10, 1862

AT a recent meeting of the "Natural History Society of Dublin," some very interesting notes on the natural history of the west of Clare, by one of the corresponding members, furnish us with materièl for a brief notice of a portion of Ireland hitherto so little explored by, or known to, the naturalist.

The principal reason of this is its remoteness, as railway communication with other parts of the country only extends as far as Ennis, and the crossing of Galway Bay depends entirely on the weather. Yet this terra incognita, with its limestone mountains and towering sea-cliffs, presents objects of interest in almost every branch of Natural History, and good accommodation can be had at Miltown Malbay, Lahinch, Ennistymon, Lisdoonvarna, and Ballyvaughan, places conveniently situated for the researches of the explorer. As the geological structure of a district has much to say to the welfare of its fauna, we may mention that this western side of Clare is composed of carboniferous limestone on the east, and the superincumbent shales and girts of coal-measures on the west. The line of boundary runs in an extremely tortuous course from the coast at Roadford on the north-west, to the Shannon east of Killadysart on the south. In the southern portion of the county the limestone occupies the low ground and the coal-measures the high ; but at the northern side, in the Burren district, the limestone rises into hills upwards of 1,000 feet in elevation, with terraced sides, the remarkable appearance of which at once stamps this district as being peculiar from any other in Ireland. The limestone is traversed by numerous joints, which cross each other and form fissures, which render the extensive bare and flat surfaces of the rock somewhat like that of a glacier. These fissures are the nurseries of many rare and beautiful plants. The hills are intersected by numerous valleys, glens, and deep gorges, with bold and precipitous cliffs. The aspect of the coal-measure district is much more dreary and monotonous, its form being that of an elevated and irregular plateau. The junction between the two formations is generally very conspicuous all along it, a coal-measure shale forming an abrupt escarpment overhanging the limestone. In the neighbourhood of Ennis several castles (which were evidently strongholds) are situated at intervals on or very near the line, so that in former days it was probably recognized as a boundary of property. We will now return to our subject, taking the bats first. Almost all the caves in Burren are the mouths of subterranean watercourses, discharging after great floods in wet weather, and consequently not at all suited for the hybernation of bats. Not long ago our informant learned that bats are seen flying about in the summer evenings in the most unfrequented and exposed parts of this Irish desert. The puzzle was, where did they hybernate? He came upon a cave on the 23rd of last January, the entrance of which is a conical hollow, about ten feet deep, in the flat surface of the rock, all festooned with ivy, ferns, mosses, marchantia, etc. Arrived at the bottom of this he perceived a small horizontal passage, and, lighting his candle he entered, and with little difficulty found himself in a spacious chamber hung with fine stalactites, and with still finer stalagmites rising from the floor. It was tolerably dry, and after a long search he found one specimen. The Hedgehog, the Irish name for which is granioge, is very common over the coal-measure district, but very scarce on the limestone. The Badger and Stoat are very abundant on Burren, south-west of Ballyvaughan. The latter has been found at an elevation of more than 500 feet above the sea. The Marten appears to be now becoming very rare in Burren, where it was once very common, the skin some years ago being worth twenty-five shillings. The Otter is very abundant in the lakes and rivers of Clare, particularly at Inchiquin Lake and the Ennistymon river. The common fox is plentiful all through the wild parts of Clare. The varying hare (Lepus Hibernicus,) occurs in great plenty over this district. Along the coast they are very fond of grazing close to the sea in the spring of the year. Amongst the more remarkable birds met in the district, may be mentioned the sea eagle, which formerly built in a precipitous cliff called Kinallia, near Glen Columbkill, and also used to frequent the cliffs of Moher. It is seldom if ever seen now. The raven, very common near the sea, a white variety, has been shot at the cliffs of Moher. The chough, also very abundant; the golden oriol, specimens of which were shot some years since at Roxton, near Corrofin, and some fifteen years ago a small flock of them was seen on some crags near Ennis; the common bittern, shot several times in the county; the American bittern, killed near Ennis, and the American night heron, shot near Corrofin.

In conclusion we may observe that Burren at one time possessed more mammals than it now does. The heads and antlers of the red deer have frequently been found at Inchiquin Lake, near Corrofin, as also those of the wild ox. Mention of the wild ox of Burren is made in an old Irish poem, translated by Mr. Curry, and mentioned in a paper read by Dr. Wilde, before the Royal Irish Academy, in May, 1859. Fin Mac Cumhaill was made prisoner by Cormac MacArt, King of Erinn, who, however, consented to liberate him when a ransom of two of every wild animal in Ireland, a male and female, were brought before him on the Green of Tara. Cailte MacRonain, the foster-brother and favourite of the celebrated Irish general, undertook and accomplished this task within twelve months, and in this poem is said to have related to St. Patrick the result of his mission. Among the animals he mentions "two wild oxen from Burren." A foot note in the paper says--"Burren a wild district in Burren, county Clare, in which herds of cattle were very likely common at the time referred to. In the Leabhar-na-g-Ceart we read of 1,000 oxen from Boirinn' being part of the tributes of Cashel to the kings of Erinn."

Some books on Clare and The Burren:-
A History of County Clare
The Strangers Gaze: Travels in County Clare, 1534-1950
Folklore of Clare: A Folklore Survey of County Clare and County Clare Folk-Tales and Myths 
Exploring The Burren
Secret Places of The Burren
Wild Plants of The Burren and the Aran Islands