Ireland’s world famous Cliffs of Moher

By: Sarah-Beth Weiss

The most famous natural attraction in Ireland

The Cliffs of Moher stand facing the Atlantic on Ireland’s west coast near Lahinch in Co. Clare. They are immense and stunning, rising to 702 feet (214 m) at their highest point and spreading for five miles (eight km) over the Atlantic ocean. This stunning natural wonder was formed over 300 million years ago during the Upper Carboniferous period.

The Cliffs are now a specially protected area (SPA) and home to over 20 species of seabirds including guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills, puffins, and peregrine falcons. It is also a thriving nature reserve, abundant with plants like sheep’s bit, scurvy grass, sea pink, and sea campion.

The cliffs are named after a ruined promontory fort ‘Mothar’ – which in Gaelic means ‘the ruin of a fort.’ It was demolished in the early 1800s, during the Napoleonic wars, to make way for a signal tower at Hag’s Head.

The history of O’Brien’s Tower

Perched atop the cliffs, in about the middle of the range, is a round stone tower built in 1835 by Sir Cornelius O’Brien. O’Brien was a local landowner who lived in Birchfield House in Liscannor. Local legend tells that O’Brien thought that by opening the area to visitors, it would create an economy for the poor people in his neighborhood.

Wikipedia

He decided to build O’Brien’s Tower as a tourist attraction, and viewing area for visitors in the 19th century. The tower once housed a teahouse, complete with a large round table and seats of ironwork. The tower fell into disrepair but was restored in the 1970s. Parts of the wall were also incorporated into the visitor center.

The area became famous for the Liscannor flagstone that O’Brien so loved to use and was quarried here for centuries. He went on to build a school nearby and erected a stone wall made from Liscannor flagstone along the cliffs. Locals were known to say he “built everything around here except the Cliffs.”

Locals saw the Spanish Armada

In the reign of Elizabeth I, the Spanish Armada set sail carrying thousands of soldiers to invade England and turn it back into a catholic country. During a sea battle and high winds, the armada was scattered and driven up to the north of England and around the coast of Scotland and Ireland.

It was a wild and stormy day in September, and the light was dying out westward over the great rollers of the Atlantic, when the watchers on the towering Cliffs of Moher saw two sails beyond Aran, and in the dim twilight, fancied they saw others farther out to sea…

Many of the sailors lost their lives out at sea and on the west coast of Ireland but the locals in Co. Clare never forgot the sight, and the stories were passed down through generations.

Visiting the cliffs

Once upon a time, you could get right to the edge of the cliffs, but today more safety precautions are in place. In 1978 a small visitor center was built, but due to the large volume of tourists, funding was sought for a more significant exhibition center. In 2007 a much bigger but eco-friendly visitor center opened on the hillside. It contains an exhibition of the story of the cliffs.

It’s also a place to shelter when the weather turns bad. Ireland is notorious for its rainfall and standing near the edge of these cliffs, the driving rain and wind can be fiercesome. But if you can brave the weather and find yourself there on a clear day, you can see Galway Bay, the Aran Islands, the Twelve Pins, and the Maum Turk mountains in Connemara. If you’re lucky, you’ll also view the Dingle Peninsula and the Blasket Islands in Kerry.

Visiting Ireland is an adventure at any time, but visiting the Cliffs of Moher is extra special and is yet another area that is under threat. Waves constantly crash against the bottom of the cliffs, and coastal erosion is playing its part to whittle down these magnificent natural wonders.

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