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This photo greeted me on facebook this morning. I am a subscriber to a facebook page called The Loop Head Peninsula, West Clare where photographer, Carsten Krieger, posts his photos and writes snippets about the beautiful Loop Head Peninsula, which is only a short drive from our cottage in Kilkee. This particular photo, taken last Thursday, came with a declaration that “the landscape is in full bloom and flowers even grow out of solid rock.”

"On the Rocks" by Carsten Krieger, courtesy "The Loop Head Peninsula, West Clare", facebook

Beauty like this makes it no surprise that last Wednesday it was announced that Loop Head has recently been declared the winner of Ireland’s European Destination of Excellence 2010, award. This makes the Loop Head Peninsula one of 22 destinations of excellence for aquatic activities and tourism in Europe and also means that it will represent Ireland at the EU tourism day in October. With County Clare tourism suffering recently, this announcement surely comes as wonderful news and offers hope for West Clare and the Kilkee area in particular. According to The Clare Champion newspaper, “Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, Mary Hanafin said the award will be of huge benefit to West Clare tourism. ‘The Loop Head tourism project shows the significant achievements that can be made when the local community and tourism enterprises strive together. I have no doubt that the winning of this prestigious award will have real benefits for the local tourism sector in Clare and Ireland generally,’ she said.”

Hmmm…. with all this great publicity for Loop Head, I wonder how the parking will be in Kilkee this summer? Eóin and I may have to do a bit of walking into town… I hope the scary farm dog who lives at the end of our road accepts us as neighbors!

You can see more photos by Carsten Krieger on the facebook page – The Loop Head Peninsula, West Clare, or at his website here .

Wildflowers in the Burren from myopera.com

An bhoireann, the place of rocks. During my first trip to Ireland I became acquainted with an Ice Age treasure.

The Burren, is a landscape made up of limestone criss-crossed with massive cracks to form slabs that cover roughly 300 square kilometers of north-west County Clare. My first glimpse of this Irish natural wonder was from the Coast Road, where the Burren borders the Atlantic coastline. Parking my car on the rough shoulder at the side of the road, I walked as close to the edge as I could safely go and stood on slippery rocks watching as huge, violent Atlantic waves pounded gigantic, limestone blocks. Standing within that surreal landscape, in nearly gale force winds with the deafening sound of the crashing waves filling my ears, was both frightening and exhilarating.

This haunting landscape stretches for miles from the Atlantic shore into Clare, covering mountains and valleys and is home to caves, ring forts, ecclesiastic sites, megalithic tombs and human relics that date back 6,000 years. The most famous of these is the Poulnabrone Dolmen, an ancient portal tomb also known as ‘The Bed of Diarmuid and Grainne’, once believed to have been a place of shelter for these star-crossed lovers from the mists of Irish mythology.

At first glance, and in most photographs, the Burren appears no more than a bleak, barren moonscape. However, this place is full of surprises. When I caught my first glimpse of the Burren I was quite surprised to see cattle grazing on the limestone terrain. I wondered what they could possibly find to nibble on in such a place. It was only after I took a closer look on foot, that I became aware of all sorts of tiny, colorful wildflowers, herbs and even the occasional wild strawberry, growing in the cracks between the stone slabs. Part of what makes the Burren a natural wonder, besides its geological formation, is that both Alpine and Mediterranean wildflowers, normally not found in the same country, exist sided by side in the small amount of soil available between the stone… apparently a delectable salad for cattle and a delicious treat for Clare bees as well, judging by the jars of ‘Burren Wildflower Honey’ found in most local gift shops!

Exploring the striking and mythical landscape of the Burren was a highlight of my first trip to Ireland and I recommend it to anyone planning a visit to that part of the world. But these days, my interest in this particular place is of a more personal and homey nature. Although I am by no means a gardener, it is my hope to turn the wild, weedy overgrowth that surrounds Rose Cottage into a bit of a wildflower garden featuring blooms specific to the region. I’ll work on this project a little at a time, beginning with an information gathering visit to The Burren Perfumery which lies in the heart of the Burren. It is my plan to stop there during our week-long stay at the end of March, if we can manage the time. Meanwhile, I will be content to browse their website… and invite you to take a look as well!

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