Kilfenora, Ireland – Today is the first official day of the 2012 Geology of County Clare field course led by Dr. Jim Best from the University of Illinois and sponsored by Shell Exploration and Production. We arrived in Dublin on the morning of May 12th and spent the rest of the day driving west on the M4 across Ireland’s midsection towards Galway. There, we turned south and drove into County Clare and ultimately arrived at the village of Kilfenora, where we’ll be stationed for much of the trip. Like most places in Ireland, the history of Kilfenora is long and complicated. Perhaps the most visible aspects of Kilfenora’s history are the ruins of a small cathedral and a number of remarkable “High Crosses” that date to either the eleventh or twelfth century AD. The landscape of rolling hills surrounding Kilfenora is divided into a number of modest pastures for cows and sheep that are separated by stone fences fashioned from countless cobbles and boulders of limestone that were cleared from the adjacent fields. When you see these fences and realize that each stone was placed by hand, it’s hard to imagine why chiropractors aren’t more common in these parts! The land clearly can’t support much more grazing animals – in most places the soil is little more than a thin (10-20 cm tick) veneer over the limestone bedrock.
We spent the first day examining a thick sequence of limestone that represents the oldest rocks in the stratigraphic section that we will be studying in the coming two weeks. These rocks preserve interesting karst features, beautiful fossils, and are ideal for (re)learning how to classify carbonate rocks from one of the best professors in the field. We focused on outcrops along the shoreline near Black Head and Ailladie along the southern edge of Galway Bay… where things got a little blustery at times.