The 5th Year Geography students of Loreto were up much earlier than usual on Tuesday 5th February as we were off on a field trip to the Burren, the Aillwee Cave and the Cliffs of Moher in Co Clare. We left Hume Street at seven, hoping that we could reclaim some lost sleep on the three hour bus journey to the unusual and rare landscape that is The Burren, at which we arrived at around half ten in the morning.
After a long, sleepy bus trip, there isn’t much better than an uphill walk to wake you up. We had an hour long tour of the rocky expanse with Daire, our tour guide, who was a local farmer who owned an area of the Burren.
The Burren is a karst or unusual landscape made of exposed limestone. This is an unusual occurrence as limestone is a sedimentary rock made of the fossils of dead sea creatures and plants that lay at the bottom of the ocean and over time were compressed and cemented together in strata or layers in a process called lithification. The limestone layers were exposed during the last Ice Age (~10,000 years ago) when glaciers moved across the Irish landscape. These glaciers plucked huge amounts of soil from the ground, exposing the limestone beneath.
Daire informed us that due to the limestone’s ability to retain heat, the area around the Burren tended to have a much milder winter to that of the rest of Ireland.
There were also some historic settlements in the valley of the Burren, dating back hundreds of years.
The Aillwee Cave:
After our wonderful tour of the Burren, we climbed back on the bus and headed towards the Aillwee Cave, which lies underneath parts of the Burren. Once we arrived, we were greeted by our tour guide, who would be giving us a 40 minute tour through this underground landform.
The cave was found by a local boy, Jack McGann, who was just 8 years old when his dog chased a rabbit down into the cave in 1943, but the cave’s existence was not revealed until 30 years later when McGann told a group of cavers about his findings.
The cave maintains an average temperature of 10 degrees celsius throughout the year, which at one point in the past provided a perfect hibernation habitat for European Brown bears. The cave has seen many species of residents, including Lesser Horseshoe bats who are currently residing within.
The Aillwee Cave was formed over millions of years through the process of carbonation. Carbonation occurs when carbon dioxide in water which has travelled downwards through the multiple strata of rock combines with calcium carbonate in limestone. This expands any holes and weaknesses in the rock, which eventually grows to a cave. The calcium carbonate and carbon dioxide mix to form calcium bicarbonate, which travels in the water. When the calcium bicarbonate reaches the roof of the cave, drops of water containing this calcium bicarbonate hang from the ceiling. The water eventually evaporates, leaving the calcium bicarbonate, now calcite, on the ceiling. Over time, these calcite deposits grow and form stalactites. When these drops do not stay on the roof of the cave but fall to the floor instead, the calcite deposit that builds up on the floor of the cave is called a stalagmite. When a stalactite and a stalagmite meet, they form a pillar. In the Aillwee Cave, we saw examples of each formation.
The Cliffs Of Moher:
We hopped back on the bus after lunch and our tour of the Aillwee Cave, and made our way to the Cliffs Of Moher. The visitor centre at the cliffs was very entertaining and educational, with videos, games, and interactive exhibits. The cliffs were really beautiful and definitely a great way to end our trip to Clare.
Megan O'Neill 5M