The Burren and Tolkien

Pol Na Gollum
Pol Na Gollum

Ireland has inspired the settings for fantasy literature and film from Narnia to Game of Thrones. Now it turns out that our landscape may have inspired one of the world’s best fantasy novels, The Lord of The Rings

This tale begins with a man named Peter Curtin. Peter owns and runs The Roadside Tavern pub in County Clare. He is also a huge Burren enthusiast and is the man behind The Burren Society Tolkien Symposium, which is taking place on 9 May as part of The Gathering.

One rainy afternoon in County Clare, Peter began a friendly chat with an elderly lady in a pub. Her name was Ms Crowe, and for many years she had worked for man called Dr Martyn, who in turn had been friends with JRR Tolkien when the author worked as an external examiner to National University Galway in the 40s and 50s.

Ms Crowe recalled how Tolkien and the doctor would often take trips to the lunar-like landscape of the Burren. When you consider that Tolkien was visiting the Burren around the same time that he was writing The Lord of The Rings, it’s easy to see how the stark beauty of this region might have inspired him.

“Tolkien appreciated the unique landscape of the Burren,” says Peter. “Although there are many other places in the world with karst limestone landscape, none are equal to the beauty of the Burren.”

The landscape here is certainly unusual, and for a fantasy author such as Tolkien it must have been magnetic.

Amongst the craggy fissures and creeping woods of the Burren there is a cave called Pol na Gollum (Hole of Gollum). If you’re a Tolkien fan no doubt your ears just pricked up! The notorious character Gollum is essential to the entire plot of The Lord of The Rings. Did Tolkien get the name for his miserable wretch from this cave? We certainly think so. What’s more, Gollum in The Lord of The Rings had a distinctive gurgling cough, and at the mouth of this cave the chirps and calls of rock doves echo and transform into a similar guttural sound. 

You can almost picture the lightbulb pinging above Tolkien’s head.


With what appears to be such a strong connection between the author and region, it seemed that the time was right for Peter to bring the Tolkien-Burren association into the spotlight.

And what better time to do it than the year of The Gathering – a massive event to welcome the 70 million-strong Irish diaspora home. The first Burren Tolkien Society Symposium takes place this May and features a week full of film screenings, writers' workshops, nature walks (with trips to Pol na Gollum) and readings from The Lord of The Rings.

The Burren’s beauty is already world famous, and its natural oddities well explored. But thanks to Peter’s hard work and passion, it’s accepted that one of the most iconic authors of the 20th century, JRR Tolkien, was influenced by the otherworldly magic of this incredible place.

Although Boromir’s iconic phrase in the novel – “One does not simply walk into Mordor” – may be true in Middle Earth. Here, in the Burren, you can do just that.