Roads south from Ballyvaughan lead to a wealth of ancient and some medieval sites. A kilometre or so down the R480 and off to the west is Newtown Castle, a restored sixteenth-century tower house with walls almost four metres thick, murder holes and gun loops, now part of the grounds of the Burren College of Art. Back on the R480 and a little further south, Aillwee Cave is reckoned to be two million years old. Guided tours visit caverns and bridged chasms, allowing you to marvel at weird rock formations, numerous stalag- mites and stalactites, and the hibernation chambers of a long-extinct species of brown bear.
About 3km south of the cave, and just off the eastern side of the R480, is the Gleninsheen Wedge Tomb, the best preserved of its kind in the area. Just a kilometre south from here is the Poulnabrone dolmen, the best known of The Burren’s seventy or so megalithic tombs. When excavated in 1986 the remains of some thirty people were uncovered along with several tools, utensils and items of jewellery, providing evidence that the tomb dated from around 2500 BC.
A kilometre further south is Caherconnell Stone Fort, the most substantial of The Burren’s many ancient remains. Such circular homesteads, with their dry-stone walling, were built from around the fifth century onwards; this one is some 40m in diameter with nearly four-metre-thick walls.
Continuing onwards, by the junction with the R476 is another O’Brien fortress, Leamaneh Castle, which, though long abandoned, is still in reason- able shape. Its tower dates from around 1480 and the adjoining four-storey house with its segmented windows was added in 1640 by Conor O’Brien.
From here it’s worth backtracking past Caherconnell and taking a detour along the first road east to CARRON, where Michael Cusack, a co-founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association, was born and is commemorated by a monument next to the old school and by a visitor centre.