• Ali Isaac

the mighty cavan burren

You might be surprised to learn that Ireland has two Burrens; the most well-known is located in Co. Clare and its stunning and unique karst limestone landscape looks almost otherworldly, receiving thousands of visitors every year.

Co. Cavan also has a Burren, but it's very different to the one in Clare. Its landscape is more diverse, ranging from bleak mountain tops to lush forest, cliff edges to deep river chasms; dotted with sink holes and dolines, the countryside is littered with the evidence of its earliest human inhabitants in the form of hut sites, burial cairns and chambers, stone art, and tumbled boundary walls.

Cavan Burren Park is widely recognised as one of the finest prehistoric relict landscapes in Ireland, and is located at Blacklion in Co. Cavan. The first settlers arrived in the area around 4500BC at the beginning of the Neolithic period, clearing the forests, building homes and monuments, and farming the land.

When Jenni and I last got together to visit Poulnabrone Dolmen and Cahercommaun Ring Fort in the other Burren, we were accompannied by Storm Dennis. Recently, Jenni came to me and we decided to visit the Cavan Burren Park; Storm Ellen decided to come with us. She threw everything she had at us, wild gales, rain and stinging hail, thunder and lightning, leaving 194,000 homes, farms and businesses in the region without power. Although we were thoroughly soaked, she didn't dampen our spirits.

read about cahercommaun ring fort in my post 'fairy forts of ireland you can visit'

read my post on 'poulnabrone dolmen'

the giant's grave, cavan burren park

The Giant's Grave is a wedge tomb located on the crest of a hill and aligned west/ east. It is thought to have been built some time during the late Neolithic/ early Bronze Age c. 2500BC, and measures approx. 7m in length. It is one of the largest and best preserved of its kind in Ireland. It has what I thought were two separate chambers, but have since learnt the one at the entrance is a portico.

The tomb faces south-west into the setting sun of the winter solstice, and the portico faces north-west into the setting sun of the summer solstice. The fallen stones on the outside of the tomb appear to be from a surrounding wall, and could be all that's left of a cairn which once covered it. Above the portico is a cap-stone which is spectacularly covered in cup marks and rings, and completely open to the elements; it may not be long before these carvings are weathered away.

As you can see in the video, the weather was so foul, I wished I could crawl inside and take shelter for a while, but instead we decided to keep going; who knows if the occupant of the grave would have appreciated our company!

the cup-marked decorated roof-stone over the portico of the giant's grave

The Calf House Dolmen at first glance appears to be a very unusual structure; this is because the cap-stone has collapsed at one end. At some point in history, local farmers in the nineteenth century converted the chamber into a barn to house their cattle, hence the name, and the evidence of this can be seen in the dry stone walling which has been used to fill in the gaps. This tomb was probably built during the Neolithic period c. 2500 - 4000BC.

the calf house dolmen, cavan burren

No matter how impressive these burial sites are, my favourite was one we almost missed. The Cairn Dolmen, we both felt, was a truly magical place. Hidden away in a forest, overgrown by moss and shamrocks, this little dolmen was humble in scale and style compared with the others we had seen. The atmosphere was so serene and calming. This dolmen is actually a small portal tomb, roughly 20m across, and is unusual in that most of its cairn material is still intact.

the enchanting and completely beguiling Cairn Dolmen, Cavan Burren

There is so much more to see at the Cavan Burren than I can show you here. It is an amazingly bio-diverse area located pretty much on the skirt of Cuilcagh mountain. The views are tremendous, the history and archaeology enthralling, and the geology, if you are into that, is quite unique. Cavan does not generally feature on the tourist trail, and is in my opinion, greatly under-rated. There is so much to see and experience, though, and I recommend placing the Cavan Burren Park at the top of your list.

I will leave you with this this small piece of folklore attached to the Giant's Grave, and the nearby Giant's Leap Chasm, and a 'hape' more photos.

The giant Lug, and his brother, Lag, had both fallen in love with the same giantess. I don't know if giantesses were hard to come by in Ireland at the time, or whether she was particularly attractive in giant terms, whatever they might be. However, Lug and Lag decided to hold a competition; the prize for the winner was to be the giantesses hand in marriage. The story does not tell if she was in agreement or not; personally, it would seem a lot easier just to ask her which one of them she would choose, if she wanted one of them at all.

Anyhow, the two brothers decided to leap across the Giant's Leap Chasm, although I don't suppose it was called that at the time. First up was Lug, and he made it safely across. Lag also leaped safely across, so now they were at a stalemate. Lag decided to impress the giantess by leaping back across the chasm... BACKWARDS. As he couldn't see the other side, he misjudged how far he needed to jump, and instead of impressing his lady friend, he fell instead to his death.

He was buried in in the portal tomb now known as the Giant's Grave, and his recklessness was immortalised in the naming of the gorge as the Giant's Leap Chasm. It is not known if the giantess accepted Lug as her husband, or whether she mourned the passing of Lag and lived out her days as a spinster.

slideshow - click the black arrows (left and right) to move between images

click on any image to enlarge it

find out more about the cavan burren park