Friday, December 18, 2009

Cliffs of Moher

The majestic Cliffs of Moher are one of Ireland's most spectacular and most visited tourist attractions and tower 213m (700 ft) above the Atlantic Ocean. The best vantage point from which to see the Cliffs is O'Briens Tower, constructed in 1835 by Cornelius O' Brien, a local Member of Parliament who was responsible for many other local landmarks, and restored in 1970. The locals know each of the cliffs by name from north to south: Aillenasharragh, Carrickatreel, Knockardachuan, Branawnmore, Stookeen and Hag's Head. Visitors also go to the cliffs to see the rich birdlife of the area, including puffins, shags, kittiwakes and razorbills. Nearby is an area known as the Burren consisting of rolling hills and cliff faces covered in limestone rock. The area supports a diverse range of flora and fauna and is also famous for its megalithic tombs and monuments that pre-date the Egyptian pyramids.

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. But like many an ageing star, you have to look beyond the glitz to appreciate the inherent attributes behind the cliché.

The cliffs rise to a height of 203m. They are entirely vertical and the cliff edge abruptly falls away 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.
Such appeal comes at a price, however: mobs. This is check-off tourism big time and busloads come and go constantly in summer. To handle the crowds, a vast new visitor centre opened in 2007. Set back into the side of a hill, it’s impressively unimpressive – it blends right in. However, as part of the development, the main walkways and viewing areas along the cliffs have been surrounded by a 1.5m-high wall. It’s lovely stone but it’s also way too high and set too far back from the edge. The entire reason for coming here (the view – unless you’re a bus-spotter) is obscured.
However, like so many oversubscribed natural wonders, there’s relief and joy if you’re willing to walk 10 minutes away. Past the end of the ‘Moher Wall’ south, there’s still a trail along the cliffs to Hag’s Head – few venture this far. There’s also a path heading north but you’re discouraged from it, so use your common sense. With binoculars you can spot the more than 30 species of birds, including puffins, that make their homes among the craggy cliff-faces. On a clear day you’ll channel Barbra Streisand as you can see forever; the Aran Islands stand etched on the waters of Galway Bay, and beyond lie the hills of Connemara in western Galway.
Contact Addresses
Shannon Heritage Visitor Center, Liscannor, County Clare, Ireland
Tel: (065) 708 1171 or 708 1565

Air: Shannon Airport. Rail: Train: Ennis Station or Galway Station. Road: Car: N-85 (from Ennis); N-67 (from Galway).




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