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A Visit to Ireland: Part 7) the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren

047 Cliffs of Moher. Branaunmore Rock just off O’Brien’s Tower

Our journey around Ireland next took us north to the Cliffs of Moher.  From Dingle we headed through Tralee then to the Tarbert ferry over the River Shannon.  The ferry ride can save you considerable time (the other option being driving all the way around the river) but it only runs once an hour so you need to check its schedule and time your arrival accordingly.  The ferry ride lasts about 15 minutes and it was cold but very scenic.

Soon we’re in County Clare and our main stop of the day not far ahead, the famous Cliffs of Moher (pronounced Maahrr), Ireland’s most popular natural tourist attraction which draws over a million visitors a year.  The first stop when visiting the Cliffs should be the new Visitor Center which is built into a hill adjoining the cliffs and blends in beautifully with the countryside.  The visitor center has some interesting exhibits and a nice cafeteria with wonderful views (towards the southern cliffs and Hag’s head).

O’Brien’s Tower, Cliffs of Moher

When you’ve viewed the exhibits you’re ready to go see and enjoy the actual cliffs.  Stretching for five miles (8 km) and standing up to 760 ft (240 m) high, the Cliffs of Moher are very sheer.   The cliffs are ancient layered shale, sandstone and flagstone and contain many marine fossils.  The winds in the area are strong and these together with the sea and rain are constantly eroding the cliffs.  And they very literally are a straight drop down, nothing at all gradual about them.

Perhaps of greatest surprise to me was that long stretches of the cliffs were not fenced off or barricaded in any way.  It was up to you as a responsible individual to ensure you didn’t fall off or step over the precipice.  Obviously Ireland has very different tort laws than the USA and I found this quite pleasing.  It’s worth noting that there several plaques posted in these open areas that prominently display a suicide prevention hotline.  The highest point along the cliffs is O’Brien’s tower, built of flagstone, an observation point made for tourists.  Below the tower is a sea stack known as Branaumore Rock which stands  70 m high.

The cliffs are home to large numbers of birds (20 species and 30,000 breeding pairs!) which includes puffins, guillemots and razor-bills.  It is not surprising to learn that the area is a major bird preserve.  These cliffs are very hazardous for ships, many of which have been wrecked here, so the area is still avoided by mariners.  There are smaller cruise vessels that do brave these waters on calmer days and offer you a chance to see these sheer cliffs from sea, a different perspective than what you’d get from land.

Branaunmore Rock, Cliffs of Moher

Branaunmore Rock, Cliffs of Moher

I’d count on about a half day to visit the Cliffs, longer if you want to hike their entire length.   They’re very dramatic cliffs and worth seeing, but to me the beauty of the area is nowhere near what is found on the Dingle peninsula or around the Ring of Kerry.  If your time is limited, head there instead.

A little further northwest in County Clare, but still close to the cliffs, is “the Burren“. This is a very barren, rocky area covering about 250 sq kilometers that at first glance looks nearly lifeless.  This area was scoured by the glaciers of the last Ice age and mostly looks like dead rock.  On close examination, especially in the spring, there is a very diversified flower population struggling for life in the cracked rocks.   More amazing is that 600 variety of plants grow here, ranging from Mediterranean to arctic plant species, a very unusual combination.   Even this barren land you can find a lot of ancient sites, including burial sites.

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