apparently, it’s actually quite the rare day when you get crystal clear skies and a good view of the Cliffs of Moher. weather not withstanding, the Cliffs are pretty amazing. rising 120m (394 ft) from the Atlantic at Hag’s Head on the south end, they reach their highest, 214m (702ft) above the sea, 8km north, just beyond O’Brien’s castle (which was built in 1853). on a clear day, you can see to the Aran Islands and Galway Bay, and even the Ten Bens in Connemara. it’s one of the most visited attractions in Ireland, pulling in as many as a million people a year. I cannot imagine what the place would have been like had I visited during the height of tourist season, with coach buses choking the parking lot and disoriented, jet-lagged tourists wandering all over the place. as it was, the visitor’s center was packed — wall-to-wall people; forget about a leisurely browse through informational material or looking for the perfect gift in the shop. maybe it was the weather: no one wanted to brave the wind and mist, or had just done so and wanted an opportunity to warm up before heading back to the car or coach. try to dry out some before sitting another hour or two. really, not unlike a lot of the other heavily touristed sites that I visited. I wager if we’d gone to the Blarney Castle, it would have been even more choked than the Cliffs of Moher.
the Cliffs were a convenient visit on my drive from Dingle to Galway. the day that I visited started out cloudy, but not misty or rainy. the entire drive up through Cos. Kerry and Clare, in fact, was overcast. after about twenty minutes, though, the cloud that had been hovering over the Cliffs descended and gave me a right soaking. (lucky me, I had a change of clothes handy for when I returned to my car, soaked to the skin.) the wind, not surprisingly, wasn’t on my side either. O’Brien Tower stands about half-way along the Cliffs and it is not exaggerating to say that the building is assaulted by the winds. you know the clip of Conan at the castle? spot on. granted, it wasn’t nearly that bad the day I visited, but the wind wouldn’t have to ratchet up much to get there.
two other things I found interesting during my visit: while the Cliffs are maintained by the Office of Public Works (and thus technically free, despite the fee charged to park in their lot, which is the only one for at least a mile in any direction), the land that runs behind the Cliffs is privately owned. as such, the land is in use … by cows! as I mentioned in a previous post, farm life has pretty extensive reign on land once you get out of the cities. if it’s good grazing land, there are sheep, cows, or even donkeys munching it up. the pastures fenced behind the Cliffs were filled with cows in various shades of brown.
along the wall, as well as along the river in Galway, there were signs for the Samaratin’s helpline. there are people hired to walk the Cliffs of Moher, ostensibly to answer questions and help tourists, but more explicitly to make sure that no one in distress tries to avail themselves of the height of the cliffs. there are walls built up from Liscannor slate (in which you can see marks left by worms, snails and eels from ages past), but with the wind gusts it can still be quite dangerous. and it is not far a far leap from this side of the slate to the edge of the cliffs, if one is desparate and thus disposed. I climbed over an “extreme danger, do not pass” sign and can completely understand how, on a particularly gusty day, one might get swept over the edge and into the sea some 400 feet below. not that it stops many people from exploring beyond the paved boundary of the cliff-side walk.
seeing signs for Samaratin’s so many places also got me wondering why similar signs aren’t posted in more places in the U.S., whether on bridges or river tow-paths or tall buildings. just a little, bright plaque offering assistance to those perhaps in need. maybe we just stick to the big places, like the Golden Gate Bridge, and hope for the best everywhere else. maybe there are actually more options for the clinically depressed. maybe private gun ownership makes it less necessary to have alternative means of ending one’s life.
lastly, the Cliffs of Moher is up for selection as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. check it out, and vote if you’re so inclined.