Loop Head
Loop Head
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Bridge of Ross
Bridge of Ross
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Rock Layers, Ross
Rock Layers, Ross
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Incoming Tide, Ross
Incoming Tide, Ross
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Tidal Flow, Ross
Tidal Flow, Ross
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The origins of Loop Head lie in a distant past, in the Upper Carboniferous Period some 320 million years ago. Back then the area that would become the Loop Head peninsula was located near the equator just off the ancient continent of Pangea at a vast river delta. This river deposited large amounts of sand, clay and silt into the ocean and over time these deposits hardened, layer upon layer, into the shale and sandstone that makes up the bedrock, cliffs and rocky shores of Loop Head.

The individual rock layers, known as turbidite sheets, are clearly visible all around the peninsula from Kilkee to Kilbaha Bay. Where the top of individual layers is exposed and hasn’t been smoothed by wave action, the ripples and grooves that had been formed by sea currents millions of years ago are still visible. Kilbaha Bay and Ross are the best places to explore these ancient seabeds. Ross also features the remains of a mudslide which is located at the eastern end of the cove below the car park. Here the muddy sediment became unstable and slumped, creating twisting and bending rock sheets and sand volcanoes in the process. Sand volcanoes appeared where trapped water escaped from under the mud sheets, pushing under high pressure through the layers of mud to the surface. While the mud layers hardened into rock, Ireland slowly moved northwards, was lifted above sea level and eventually it reached its current position on the globe.

The latest chain of events which shaped Loop Head into the place we see today, were the ice ages. These started around 100.000 years ago and brought a series of glaciations interspersed with warmer periods to the northern hemisphere and to Ireland. It is thought that the early glaciations left considerable amount of sediment that slowly built up the soils of Loop Head and neighbouring areas. The latest glaciation however, which was at its height around 24.000 years ago, influenced Loop Head in a different way. At the time a large ice dome that stretched from Galway Bay over the Burren and into County Tipperary stopped at a line running roughly from Quilty to Kilrush and from there across the Shannon Estuary to Tarbert and into County Kerry. This means the Loop Head peninsula remained ice free during this period. Once the ice started to retreat it left kames, small, irregular formed hills made of glacial deposit and limestone till, which would become the parent material for the soils of Mid and East Clare. Loop Head did not receive any of those glacial additives and consequently its soil is rather shallow and features a high clay content. The result is a heavy and waterlogged soil known as gley that is dominant in most places of the peninsula. A scattering of more fertile brown soil, which developed after the ice age, can be found in a few corners and the headland of Loop Head itself features a layer of podzol which is typical for heathlands.

Some 10.000 years ago after temperatures started to rise and the ice ages ended Loop Head developed birch and pine forests that very likely covered large parts of the peninsula from Carrigaholt to Kilrush and further along the estuary. In some places the remains of these ancient woodlands can still be seen. A place known as Drowned Forest near Carrigaholt features numerous tree trunks that are being engulfed by the tide twice a day. At the estuary near the small village of Knock and the on beaches around Doonbeg similar remains are being uncovered by the tides from time to time.

Like in the rest of Ireland the forests started to disappear after the arrival of men and a change in climate around 4000 years ago which favoured the development of peatlands. It is likely that most of Loop Head was covered in blanket bog at some stage, probably interspersed with a few remaining stands of birch or pine and marshland along the streams and rivers. Little is known about the animals that roamed Loop Head back then but it is possible that the Irish Hare was already around in these times and legends hint at sea monsters in the Shannon estuary that resemble Bottlenose Dolphins. It is also not unlikely that animals that have now disappeared from Ireland have once been calling Loop Head their home: Red Deer, Wild Boar and Wolves might have walked the shores of the peninsula.

To sustain a growing human population however the last pockets of woodland were felled and bogs were drained to create space for livestock and crops and so over time the treeless patchwork of fields we know today was created. Meanwhile the relentless Atlantic Ocean had been working away at the coast, carving inlets, sea arches, sea caves, sea stacks and small islands out of the rock. Even today these processes are ongoing, men keep shaping the landscape and the sea keeps sculpting the coast.