The Cliffs of Moher are one of Ireland’s most recognizable and visited landmarks. Located on the west coast of Ireland in County Clare, these towering cliffs are one of the most majestic sights along the Wild Atlantic Way.
If you’ve never been lucky enough to visit the Cliffs of Moher, then believe me, they truly are a tremendous site, especially on a clear day when the sun is shining.
The views from the cliff top are breathtaking and the ocean panoramo is something to behold. The cliff edge is extremely dangerous, but these amazing cliffs are a popular tourist attraction for visitors from all around the world.
So today, let’s explore the Cliffs of Moher, and learn some of the history and legends behind this beautiful spot.
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What are the Cliffs of Moher?
The County Clare Cliffs of Moher are vertical cliff edges on the West Coast of Ireland. The view over the Atlantic ocean and the Aran islands is spectacular.
Have you ever wondered how to pronounce this place name? Irish people pronouce the name as mow-her, as when you mow the lawn.
The cliffs are one of Ireland’s more spectacular visitor spots. Tourists can hear the waves crashing at the bottom of the cliffs and see the Aran Islands, the Hills of Connemara, and Galway Bay on a clear day.
The cliffs were formed over 320 million years ago and run 8 miles or 14 kilometres along the coast of Clare. The tallest peak, at O’Brien’s Tower, is 700 feet.
The cliffs have inspired many an artist, poet, and musician over time. You can find mention in songs and artwork. Avid movie lovers may recognize the Cliffs of Moher as the Horcrux Caves in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, or the Cliffs of Insanity from Princess Bride.
There are clear and safe paths for tourists to walk and enjoy the gorgeous views. These cliffs are the most famous natural attraction in Ireland.
What Makes the Cliffs of Moher Unique?
The sheer magnificence of these incredible cliffs is inspiring. Their remote and isolated location mean they are home to all kinds of wildlife, including unusual flowers, birds such as puffins, razorbills and kittiwakes. It is a bird watchers paradise.
The puffins arrive between mid-May and mid-July. They nest and rear their young on the cliffs so are often seen during the month of June.
This coastline is part of the Burren, a unique limestone landscape found in County Clare. The Cliffs of Moher have been designated as a UNESCO Geopark and this means that it is a Special Protected Area for Birds and Wildlife.
The waters of the Atlantic ocean are home to an abundance of marine life. You might be lucky and spot some whales or dolphins swimming below.
These cliffs have been carved by Mother Nature, formed and shaped by the hands of time, weather, and ocean waves.
The cliffs rise slowly from Liscannor to the south and from Doolin village to the north, taking cliff walkers along exhilirating trails to gaze on some of the most breathtaking coastal scenery in all of Ireland.
This is truly an bracing spot, with Atlantic winds gusting over the cliff tops to clear the mind and renew the soul. Sea spray fills the air and wets the face and hair, so don’t forget your rain jacket. You’ll need it even if it’s not raining.
A Magical Experience
A trek along the cliffs is a wind-whipped, magical experience, listening to the rolling waves crashing against the cliff walls below. A hike from the village of Doolin is an amazing experience.
When there, I am always reminded of a line from a poem I learned at school called Fontenoy 1745, by Emily Lawless. She describes the thoughts of Irish soldiers before this epic battle in France …
“Oh, rough the rude Atlantic, the thunderous, the wide,
Whose kiss is like a soldier’s kiss which will not be denied!
The whole night long we dream of you, and waking think we’re there -Vain dream, and foolish waking, we never shall see Clare.”
If you are impressed by the views during the day, then you will be blown away by the beauty of sunset at the Cliffs. Since they face directly west, the setting sun over the Atlantic ocean burnishes the cliffs in shades of gold and orange.
History of the Cliffs of Moher
It is believed that the Cliffs date back 320 million years when Ireland’s ancient rivers laid sediment against land to form the cliffs. The cliffs are comprised of shale, siltstone, and sandstone.
Sitting on top of the beautiful cliffs, you can see O’Brien’s Tower which was built in 1835 by Sir Cornelius O’Brien. He was a prominent descendent of High King Brian Ború, famous for his defeat of the Vikings at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014 AD.
The tower was built by O’Brien because he believed that tourism could save the local economy and bring income to the local people. It became a popular viewing area for visitors in the 19th century, and stands at the highest point of the cliffs.
Visiting the Cliffs of Moher
While this landmark is no longer open and used for tourists, it is a popular destination for visitors, and a picturesque addition to photographs. The Cliffs of Moher Visitor Center is where tourists now go to begin their visit.
There’s ample parking for buses and cars opposite the entrance to the visitor’s center. The parking fee includes the admission fee to the cliffs. The ticket is good for everyone in the car.
The Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience has been beautifully designed so that it does not overshadow the landscape. It appears to be buried into the land. The goals of the center are to provide accessible tours and viewing of the cliffs, with an ethos of sustainability, conservation of this natural resource, and protection of this fragile environment.
Pathways along the cliffs are suitable for all levels of mobility, with safe walled viewing areas close to the Visitor’s Center, and well designed viewing platforms. Some of the best views are very close to the entrance to the site.
I recommend allowing plenty of time for a visit – about one to two hours. July and August are the busiest months for tourists.
If you’re not staying in County Clare, remember a day trip to the cliffs by bus is available from Ireland’s larger cities including Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and Galway.
The Legend of the Hag and Cú Chulainn
Legend has it that a woman named Mal fell in love with Cú Chulainn, the legendary member of the Red Branch Knights of Ulster. To her dismay, he did not return her love so she chased him around the island of Ireland, refusing to be denied.
Cú Chulainn ended up south of the Cliffs of Moher and leaped to the island known as Diarmuid and Gráinne’s Rock.
Mal attempted to leap after Cú Chulainn and was assisted by a gust of wind. Cú Chulainn lept back in the opposite direction. When Mal tried to follow him, she crashed into the side of the rocks without the wind’s assistance.
Her anger boiled red and the indent of her body hitting the rocks at Hag’s Head can be seen to this day. It is hypothesized this is why we have the town of Miltown Malbay.
The Local Legend of the Lost City of Kilstiffen
An old legend of County Clare tells of an ancient town that was swallowed by the Atlantic Ocean. It is said the sea opened up where the town of Kilstiffen stood. It has been called by many names including Cill Stuifin, Kilstpheen, Kilstuitheen, Cill Stuithin, and Cill Stuifin.
The city sank underwater when the local chieftain lost the golden key to the gates of the city during a battle. Legend has it that the town will remain underwater until the key is found and returned.
For now, you have to wonder about this lost city while standing at the top of the cliffs. Look to the south and see if the ocean water shimmers to reveal the location of this lost city.
There are many theories as to where the key may be. Some say it lies at the bottom of the lake at the top of a mountain, Slieve Callan which lies to the east of the cliffs. Others say the key lies under an ogham stone on this mountain. Regardless, the key is yet to be found.
If you visit the cliffs, you may see the city shining below the surface. Legend has it the city rises every seven years, but if you witness it rising, you will die before it rises again in seven years.
In the reef of Lisacannor Bay you can see old vegetation, bogs and underwater forests. These have provided inspiration for this legend.
Leap of the Foals
When St. Patrick introduced Christianity to the area, the Tuatha De Danann, the pantheon of Celtic deities were outraged. They turned themselves into horses and galloped to Kilcornan in the Burren. They hid in the caves of Kilcornan for centuries.
After years, seven small foals emerged from the caves. Since they had never seen bright light, they were spooked by the sunlight. They began galloping along the cliffs where they eventually fell to their deaths. The spot at the foot of the cliffs where they fell is known as Aill Na Searrach, or The Cliff of the Foals.
These are just some of the legends of the majestic Cliffs of Moher, one of the most iconic features of the Wild Atlantic Way.
Have you ever visited the Cliffs of Moher? What’s your take on the views and the legends of the cliffs?
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Mairéad –Irish American Mom
Pronunciation – rhymes with parade
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