Ireland is home to a truly staggering number of incredible natural rock formations and geological tourist attractions. If you’ve never had the pleasure of being stunned by the truly mind-boggling natural beauty that Ireland’s natural rock formations have to offer, do yourself a favour and pay a visit to at least some of the sights discussed in this article. Regardless of whether you’re travelling from abroad or enjoying a staycation, if you enjoy natural beauty, or are a geology enthusiast, you will not be disappointed!
A large number of truly amazing rock formations and geological sites can be found in Ireland. Popular tourist attractions, such as the Giant’s Causeway and the Burren, as well as lesser known ones, such as the Valentina Trackway, are truly spectacular sights to behold and feature many unique geological peculiarities.
In this article, we introduce some of Ireland’s most amazing rock formations and also highlight some of their surrounding attractions. Read on to find out more.
Where to find the best rock formations in Ireland
As mentioned, Ireland truly does have some of the most astonishing rock formations that can be found anywhere. Here are our favourite picks.
Located in Co. Antrim, The Giant’s Causeway is comprised of approximately 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, which are the remnants of volcanic eruptions 50 to 60 million years ago (i.e. during the Paleocene Epoch for all you geology buffs). As the lava cooled, it contracted and eventually formed cracked formations, sometimes referred to as “biscuits”. Horizontal fracturing resulted in convex bottom faces and concave top faces, which led to the “ball and socket” joint formations that we see today. The tallest columns reach a height of approximately 12 metres, and the solidified lava can be up to 28 metres in thickness in some areas!
The top surfaces of the columns form the stepping-stone formation that leads down into the sea and the columns are mostly hexagonal, while some have four, five, seven or eight sides.
These truly spectacular rock formations have been a World Heritage Site since 1986, and were also declared a national treasure reserve in 1987.
A large part of the Giant’s Causeway is owned and managed by the National Trust and saw close to a million visitors in 2019. You can visit the area for free, although you will be charged a fee if you do so via the visitor centre.
While in the area, there’s plenty to explore in the vicinity such as the Bushmills Railway, the Bushmills Distillery, the Causeway Fun Farm and McConaghy’s Souvenir Shop, which is a mere 1-minute walk from the Giant’s Causeway by foot.
And for TV fans, you might recall that the creators of Game of Thrones made great use of the area around the Giant’s Causeway featuring sites including Ballintoy Harbour (the main port of ‘Pyke’), the Cushendun Caves (where Melisandre gave birth to her ‘shadow assassin’) and Shane’s Castle (which at one stage or another played home to Winterfell and Castle Black among others).
The Burren is a region that spans 250 square kilometres. The region features arctic, alpine, and Mediterranean plants growing side by side due to its unusual environment. The Spring Gentian is a bright blue alpine flower which is used as the unofficial symbol of the Burren by the Tourist Board.
If you are a rock climber, you will love the Burren’s limestone cliffs – in particular its sea cliffs – as they are just perfect for experienced climbers. There are also a number of chartered caves in the area if you are up for some spelunking!
Historic and archaeological sites are numerous around the Burren, with more than 90 megalithic tombs in the area and several stone forts, some of which are very well-preserved.
Nearby points of interest
Poulnabrone is a portal tomb that was erected around 2500 BC and is located within the Burren area. It is the remnant of a stone monument that was originally covered with soil and has borne witness to many archaeological finds, including human remains, weapons and pottery relics.
2. Carran Church
Carran Church was built in the 13th century and served the largest parish until the 16th century. The structure is 19 metres long and 7 metres wide. On the western side, a broken belfry and pointed doorway, which appears to have been added later, can be found. On the northern side, the remains of a stone carving of a head wearing a hood indicates that it is likely at least as old as the rest of the structure.
3. The Cliffs of Moher
The awe-inspiring Cliffs of Moher are one of the most popular tourist destinations in Ireland and see around 1.5 million visitors per year. They rise from the southwestern edge of the Burren and extend for over 8 km along the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. At their highest point they reach a height of 214 metres at O’Brien’s tower.
They form part of the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopart, which is designated as one of the geotourism destinations in Europe.
The Cliffs of Moher include a Cliff Walk, which extends for 18 kilometres and can be accessed at various locations.
The Valentia Trackways
The Valentia Island Trackways (also known as the Valentia Tetrapod Trackways) are footprints that were left in damp sand by a primitive vertebrate from between 350 million to 385 million years ago (the Devonian period) in the river basin that is now southwestern Ireland.
The area is located on the north coast of Dohilla, Co. Kerry. The prints were originally left in damp sand and were preserved by silt and sand overlying them. Later these prints were converted to rock over a long period of time and are among the oldest signs of vertebrate life on land.
The Valentia Trackway prints are of historical significance because they represent the transition of life from water to land and provide reliable evidence of amphibians moving over land. They are the most extensive of the four Devonian trackways, the others being located in Scotland and Australia.
The Cathedral Rocks are a series of cliffs that are located at the northernmost point of the Inis Na Bro island, one of the Blasket Islands of Kerry. These magnificent natural rock formations resemble a Gothic cathedral. Tearaght Island is located behind the rocks and can be seen in the distance when viewing the Cathedral Rocks.
The Coumshingaun Corrie Lake
The Coumshingaun Corrie Lake is situated in Co Waterford and is surrounded by the Comeragh mountains. The lake is one of the best examples of a corrie (arm-shaped hollow) in Europe. Corries were formed by the movement of glaciers during the ice age, and are sought for their natural beauty as well as the peace and tranquility of their surroundings.
You can learn more about Coumshingaun Lake and other peaceful lake and lough walks throughout Ireland in our earlier post here.
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