The Burren, Co. Clare

Outline map of ClareThe Burren is one of the most famous and unique karst landscapes in Western Europe. It is an upland area of mostly very pure, well-bedded Carboniferous limestone covering about 400 square kilometres. It can be divided into two main areas. On the western side the hills have summits formed of impermeable shales. These shale caps provide the catchment areas for swallow holes located at the shale/limestone boundary. These caves tend to be active ie wet canyon caves and are liable to sudden flooding. The longest cave in Ireland is the Poulnagollum/Poll Elva system – currently 16km long, it is situated on the eastern edge of Slieve Elva. Other classic caves in this part of the Burren are the Doolin river cave and the Coolagh river cave; all are subject to severe flooding risks. The eastern side of the Burren is known as the High Burren. Here the shale cover has been completely removed by glacial activity and many of the caves are inactive except in major floods. However the karst scenery is at its most spectacular. Caves are known near Ballyvaughan, Kilcorney, Carran and Kilnaboy.
The most up to date guide to the caves of Clare, Galway, Mayo, Roscommon and other outlying areas in the West of Ireland is contained within the UBSS publication “Caves of Mid-West Ireland” available to purchase here or in most good caving shops. Publication of this work was supported by the SUI. The previous guidebook for this region, ‘The Caves of County Clare and South Galway’, was edited by Graham Mullan and published by the University of Bristol Speleological Society in 2003. It is available directly from University of Bristol Speleological Society and should be available in most good caving shops. This replaces the older guidebook ‘The Caves of County Clare’ by C. A. Self, also published by the UBSS. Updated information for the area can be found in various issues of Irish Speleology and ‘The Proceedings of the University of Bristol Speleological Society’.


Accommodation is plentiful in the area as it is a popular tourist region. There are independent hostels and self catering accommodation. Pubs are plentiful and widespread but Hylands Hotel in Ballyvaughan, O’Donoghues in Fanore, the Roadside Tavern in Lisdoonvarna and McGann’s and O’Connor’s in Doolin are the most regularly frequented by cavers.
Skip to content