Hang Your Head Over the Cliff’s Edge
At Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher it’s common to see people stretched out on the ground with just their heads peering over the cliffs’ edges to look straight down at the pounding waves, some 210m (700 ft.) below. The view of the sea and the miles of cliffs to both sides from this high point in western Ireland is awesome, especially if you go on a clear day.
The cliffs, which stretch 8km (5 miles) along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, are formed of layers of siltstone, shale, and sandstone. The layers are a geological history dating back to the end of the Lower Carboniferous period, a time of glaciation some 290 to 360 million years ago. In 1835 Sir Cornelius O’Brian, recognizing the tourist potential of these cliffs in County Clare, built a round observation tower that is still open to the public. From its observation platform, visitors can view the cliffs and surrounding area. On a clear day visitors can see the Aran Islands in Galway Bay, the mountains of Kerry, and the Loop Head at the southern tip of Claire. The nooks and crannies of the cliffs are home to thousands of birds in the spring, summer, and fall. In mid-April, it’s even possible to see the Atlantic Puffin.
The Cliffs of Moher, about 11⁄2 hours by car from Galway, are one of the most visited tourist sites in Ireland, attracting as many as one million visitors each year. (You can also reach the cliffs by bus or rail.) The road to the top is paved and today there is a large, modern, tasteful visitor center built into the cliffs and covered with grass where one can take an interpretive tour, view the exhibits, and enjoy something to eat. Stop at the visitor center for information about the 600m (1,950 ft.) of walkways along the cliff tops and viewing platforms. Rangers are stationed throughout the complex to answer visitors’ questions.
There are numerous tours from town, but they usually last only an hour. We recommend taking more time in order to really absorb the experience. Consider hiking from O’Brian’s Tower along the cliffs to Hag’s Point (approx. 8km/5 miles). While there are few places to view the cliffs from the trail, it’s a good trek and the route passes the remains of an old watchtower at the point. A few words of caution: Do the trek in good weather. Avoid rainy or very windy days, and take a rainproof jacket just in case. Stay on the landward side of any barriers. (There are no protective barriers at the cliff’s edge. Several deaths are reported yearly, so be careful.) Be especially watchful of children; better yet, don’t go with young children. If you’re afraid of heights or get vertigo, skip the trek.
An alternative to viewing the cliffs from the top is taking a ride on the ferry or cruise boats that can be boarded in the nearby town of Doolin and sailing around the base of the cliffs. While you’re in the area, a great day trip includes a ferry ride to Inishmore in the Aran Islands, followed by a ride in a horse drawn cart to Dun Aengus, an iron-age fort with nearly 4m-thick (12-ft.) walls. Other worthy explorations nearby include visiting Aillwee Cave, Doolin Cave, and the restored Bunratty Castle. —LF
When to Go: Spring and fall. Winter weather can be nasty, though the crowds will be smaller. The summer crowds are huge.