I have never been someone with “the nose”. I can’t break down scents to know exactly what types of flowers fill them. I couldn’t tell you one flower from the next. However, I do know when a scent is for me. Our noses are incredibly choosey when it comes to scents. It is perhaps one area of life where you will find those people who never have opinions forming absolute thoughts on certain scents. It either works with the chemistry of your body or it causes a ruffling of the nose.
Scents are about as strange and absolute as some landscapes can be. Driving through County Clare, I found myself in the Burren, a strange landscape to say the least. The limestone setting reminds me more of something you might see in the Mediterranean and not in Ireland. In March, the Burren appears chilling and isolated. There isn’t that vibrant emerald green so many envision when they think of this country. The rockiness gives the allusion you are in a harsh and dark land. Twiggy plants seem to be clinging to life. There is nothing hopeful about this terrain until I turn the corner. I look a little harder.
I see little mud brown signs for Burren Perfumery. I follow them not really knowing what I will find, but I am intrigued. How can the scents of flowers find brightness here to produce perfume? I don’t see buildings or any sign of life, just a straight black road. I turn down a driveway, not sure how it will end if another car comes up the other way. Then what feels like a mirage of perfect stone buildings appear.
Technically in the town of Carran, the Burren Perfumery sits just outside in seemingly the middle of nowhere. You can’t really see much when you turn down the narrow drive to reach the perfumery. And then, you let your nose do the traveling. The Burren Perfumery and Floral Center claim the title of being Ireland’s oldest perfumery. Founded over forty years ago, the perfumery rests in probably one of the country’s most remote locales.
I am surprised to learn the Burren hosts the brightness of flowers, boasting 75% of the country’s native wildflowers. While they are not in full bloom just yet, I know already the Burren is not what it seems. The perfumes, handmade soaps and body care products are all based on pure botanical extracts and organic ingredients. You won’t find strange chemical names on the back of the bottle. You can take a peek at the still room or cozy up with a cup of tea here. Just sniffing around however won’t cost you a thing.
I talk to Christina, running the shop that day. She has been working with the Burren Perfumery for 10 years. In that time, she says she has acquired “the nose”. “Suddenly you just get it one day,” she says of being able to decipher the scents in each fragrance. Christina began working here without knowing how to make perfume and now she does most of the bottling.
She goes on to explain how the extracts are now shipped in from far off lands, as the Burren is a Special Area of Conservation. They clearly don’t want people picking up the wildflowers to delight noses across the world and thus ruin the ecosystem in the process. Now, they do the mixing at the Burren Perfumery, creating a number of fragrances, lotions and soaps all with the scents of wildflowers that fill the area.
As I browse the shop, letting my nose figure out what I like and don’t like, I am still puzzled by how this landscape can produce such addictive scents. The unique limestone scene allows for grikes, narrow fissures between the seams of the rocks. In these grikes, wildflowers of all make and model spring up. Mediterranean, Arctic and alpine, they all grow here due to the sheltered conditions. The 10-minute film in the shop goes into more detail on the Burren and its miraculous flowers. Names like the “butterfly orchid” and the “fly orchid” mix with hazel to form the land of contrasts. The ominous voice on the film deems the Burren, “a forbidden landscape with the warmth of flowers”.
I probably seemed a bit like a loiterer to Christina. There was just something about the smells I couldn’t quite get enough of that day. I was under some sort of spell, or at least my nose was. I pick up a Frond lotion, which I’m told, is made up of wild rose, violet, ylang ylang and soft sandalwood. No matter the flower, it is a reminder of my time in the Burren. As I make the drive back out, suddenly there are no signs of the perfumery, no signs of life. Sometimes you just have to follow your nose.