A Guide To Visiting The Iconic Poulnabrone Dolmen In The Burren

Poulnabrone dolmen in the burren
Photos via Shutterstock

A visit to the now-iconic Poulnabrone Dolmen is one of the most popular things to do in Clare.

Poulnabrone Dolmen is one of Ireland’s most iconic archaeological monuments and it can be found standing proudly in the Burren National Park.

It is the second most visited location in the Burren area (after the Cliffs of Moher) and is the oldest megalithic monument in Ireland.

In the guide below, you’ll find everything from the history of Poulnabrone and why it was constructed to where to park if you plan on visiting.

Quick need-to-knows before visiting Poulnabrone Dolmen in Clare

Poulnabrone Dolmen
Photo by Remizov (shutterstock)

Although a visit to Poulnabrone Dolmen in Clare is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

1. Location

Poulnabrone Dolmen can be found in a rocky field in a quiet corner of the Burren. It is close to the R480 road and is 8 kilometres south of Ballyvaughan. The remote location would have made it difficult to get to at the time it was built, which is possibly why the site was chosen.

2. Parking

There’s a handy bit of parking right beside Poulnadrone Dolmen (here’s the location on Google Maps). It’s a short walk from the car park to the Dolmen, but as the ground is very uneven, it may prove tricky for those with limited mobility. 

3. Meaning of the name

As is often the case with names in Ireland, Poulnabrone is the English phonetic transcription of the Irish words Poll na Brón. Brón comes from the Irish word bró, meaning quern, so the name means “Hole (or Pool) of the Quernstone”. Sometimes this is wrongly translated as “Hole of Sorrows”.

About Poulnabrone Dolmen

Poulnabrone dolmen in the burren
Photos via Shutterstock

Poulnabrone Dolmen is made up of three standing portal stones that support a large horizontal capstone, and it dates to the Neolithic period of Ireland, about 4200 BCE and 2900 BCE.

Although there are roughly 172 Dolmens in Ireland, Poulnabrone Dolmen is the best known and arguably the most visited.

What it was used for

The topography was formed from limestone that was laid down around 350 million years ago. It was built by Neolithic farmers who chose the area either as a collective burial site, to mark their territory or for ritual.

At the time, the stones that remain would have been covered with soil and the flagstone topped with a cairn.

The design of the dolmen

Poulnabrone dolmen is a portal tomb – i.e. large capstones that are elevated at an angle and held up by standing stones. The slab-like tabular capstone is almost four metres in length, two to three metres wide and 30 centimetres thick.

The capstone slopes to the west, which is unusual for this kind of dolmen. The chamber roof is supported by upright standing stones, each about 2 metres high. The upright stones provide stability for the chamber and the entry faces north.

The discovery of human remains

The site was excavated in 1986 and 1988. Some 33 human remains—men, women and children along with stone and bone objects that would have been buried with the bodies.

The human remains and the burial objects are thought to be from 3800 BCE to 3200 BCE and the bodies were taken elsewhere to decompose before the bones were transferred to the location.

Only one of the adults was over the age of 40. The burial site also contained the remains of a much later Bronze Age baby (1750 to 1420 BCE).

Things to do after you’ve finished at Poulnabrone dolmen

One of the beauties of Poulnabrone Dolmen is that it’s a short spin away from a clatter of other attractions, both man-made and natural.

Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Poulnabrone Dolmen (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).

1. The Burren National Park

the burren
Photo left: gabriel12. Photo right: Lisandro Luis Trarbach (Shutterstock)

The Burren National Park is in the south-east corner of the Burren. It’s an extensive park, covering a total of about 1,500 hectares. In the summer tourist season, you can take free guided walks through the national park, which will educate you on the local flora, fauna and geology. Booking is essential as places are limited.

2. The Ailwee Caves

Aillwee caves in clare
Photo left via the Aillwee Cave. Photo right via Burren Birds of Prey Centre (Facebook)

The Ailwee Caves in Clare can be found perched high on the Burren mountainside. You are able to tour the beautiful caverns accompanied by local guides who will tell you all about the unique and special geology of the area.

3. Fanore Beach

fanore beach
Photo left: Johannes Rigg. Photo right: mark_gusev (Shutterstock)

The west coast of Ireland features a variety of stunning beaches. Fanore Beach is long and has extensive sand dunes, making it a popular place to go for a ramble when the weather is warm. The location is popular with cyclists, walkers and fishermen, and there’s a bar/restaurant in the village.

4. Doolin

Doonagore Castle
Photo by shutterupeire (shutterstock)

Doolin is famous for its beautiful painted houses, that hint to the artistic nature of the people who choose to make the village their home. The countryside and the scenery are amazing, and the village is close to the Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands, and is well-known for traditional Irish music. There is plenty of accommodation choices, places to eat and drink and independent local shops.

5. Father Ted’s House

father teds house in county clare
Look familiar? Photo by Ben Riordain

Father Ted’s House attracts fans of iconic 1990s Irish sitcom, where three disgraced Irish priests lived on the fictional island of Cragy. The house in County Clare was used for the exterior shots and although it is occupied, the owners are happy to welcome Father Ted fans all year round for tea, scones and chat. Booking is essential.

FAQs about Poulnabrone Dolmen in Clare

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from when was Poulnabrone Dolmen built to what there is to do close by.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

How old is the poulnabrone Dolmen?

Poulnabrone Dolmen dates back to the Neolithic period, and it’s believed that it was constructed between 4200 BC and 2900 BC. 

What was Poulnabrone Dolmen used for?

Poulnabrone Dolmen was built by Neolithic farmers and it’s believed that it eas used as either a collective burial site or for religious ritual. 

Is there parking near Poulnabrone Dolmen?

Yes – you’ll find a small parking area not far from Poulnabrone Dolmen (see link to location on Google Maps above).

Emma Baird is a lifestyle editor and novelist. She has worked in the communications industry for more than 25 years, and loves animals, the countryside and lingering in a great pub for the food and the craic.

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