Star of a million tourist brochures, the Cliffs of Moher (Aillte an Mothair, or Ailltreacha Mothair) are one of the most popular sights in Ireland, located 10km south of Doolin. The entirely vertical cliffs rise to a height of 203m, their edge falling away abruptly into the constantly churning sea. A series of heads, the dark limestone seems to march in a rigid formation that amazes, no matter how many times you look. The Aran Islands stand etched on the waters of Galway Bay.
Such appeal comes at a price: mobs. This is check-off tourism big time and busloads come and go constantly in summer. Best to arrive outside of the hours of 11am to 3pm. (Sound fun?! This will be an early day adventure, for sure.) There are good rewards if you’re willing to walk for 10 minutes.(Can do!) There are over 600 meters of pathways and viewing platforms along the cliff edge that allow the visitor to enjoy a spectacular and healthy cliff walk. The amazing views of the Cliffs, the famous Aran Islands, Kerry mountains, Galway Bay, O’Briens Tower and the thousands of seabirds make the Cliffs a magical place. If you are lucky on your stroll you will hear and see the Cliffs Buskers playing traditional Irish music along the Cliff pathways. Talking telescopes are dotted along the paths as you go.
O’Brien’s Tower stands on a headland at the Cliffs of Moher commanding views south towards Hags Head and north towards Doolin. The tower was built in 1835 by local landlord Cornelius O’Brien as a viewing point for the tourists that even then were flocking to the Cliffs. On a clear day the view can extend as far as Loop Head at the southern tip of Clare and beyond to the mountains of Kerry. Look north and you might make out the Twelve Bens in Connemara (also known as the Twelve Pins) beyond Galway Bay. And unless visibility is very poor, you are almost sure to see the three Aran Islands to the west. The Aill Na Searrach wave view point is at O’Brien’s Tower – Aill Na Searrach is the place where the 40ft wave raises its head several times a year. Surfers can be seen surfing the wave from this point.
Forming the southern end of the Cliffs of Moher, Hag’s Head is a dramatic place from which to view the cliffs. There’s a huge sea arch at the tip of Hag’s Head and another arch visible to the north. The old signal tower on the head was erected in case Napoleon tried to attack on the western coast of Ireland. A spectacular walking trail links the head with the cliffs and Liscannor.
The human story and history of the Cliffs of Moher dates back at least two thousand years as the name derives from a 1st Century BC fort that stood where Moher Tower now stands. The old Irish word “Mothar” means ruined fort and it is this that gives the cliffs their name.
The Cliffs of Moher are home to one of the major colonies of cliff nesting seabirds in Ireland. The area was designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA) for Birds under the EU Birds Directive in 1986 and as a Refuge for Fauna in 1988. Included within the designated site are the cliffs, the cliff-top maritime grassland and heath, and a 200 metre zone of open water, directly in front of the cliffs to protect part of the birds’ feeding area. There are 20 species of nesting birds, including 9 species of breeding seabirds, and up to 30,000 breeding pairs. Seabirds such as Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Choughs and Kittiwakes can be seen. (Oh, it would be fun to see a Puffin!)
We’ll visit from Doolin (Dubh Linn – The black pool; pop 250). Doolin lies on the south-western extremity of the Burren and is internationally renowned as a centre of live Irish music, played in its many hugely popular pubs – such as O’Connor’s (in Fisher Street on the way to the harbour), Fitzpatrick’s Bar in the Hotel Doolin and McGann’s and McDermott’s at the northern end. It’s an excellent base for exploring the Cliffs of Moher and a popular departure point for the Aran Islands. Given all its attributes, you might be surprised when you realise that Doolin as it’s known barely exists. Rather, you might be forgiven for exclaiming, ‘There’s no there here!’ For Doolin is really three infinitesimally small neighbouring villages. Fisherstreet is right on the water, Doolin itself is about 1km east on the little River Aille, and Roadford is another 1km east
* Descriptions are from Lonely Planet and Rough Guide. Images from google images.