Monday, February 11, 2013

The Cliffs of Moher

Chances are that if you ask an Irishman about a place you need to see before leaving Ireland, he will direct you toward the Cliffs of Moher.  One of Ireland’s top tourist sights, it is easy to see why the movies and people are fascinated by this spectacular landmark.  In fact, if you are a fan of Harry Potter or The Princess Bride, you may already know this place.  The Cliffs of Moher have long commanded humanity’s awe and respect, their sheer, 200 meter drop into the Atlantic Ocean awakening a new sense of respect within the human heart. 


Nestled in a part of Ireland known as the Burren, the Cliffs are not only aesthetically enthralling: they are a geological wonder.  Thousands of years of compacted layers of silt, mud and sand have eroded away to give the Cliffs their uniquely jagged appearance, soil breaking down under the will of ancient rivers and, of course, the fury of the Atlantic.  Time created these natural wonders and, as with most things, it is time that will also take them away.  Every year the Cliffs lose more of their lower levels of soil to the ocean, the edge eventually collapsing.  At the base of the Cliffs, square pillars of black stone can be plainly seen, the natural formations molded by the power of salt water and wind.

Recent development near the Cliffs has brought many modern conveniences for the visitors.  There is a museum dedicated to the history and geology of the Cliffs as well as a gift shop, restaurant and occasionally live music.  While I visited, a man sat on the stone pathway and played traditional tunes on an Irish flute, the haunting and lively melodies drifting with the wind that never truly settles.  Visitors can walk for miles along the edge where railings and stairs have been placed for the protection and convenience of the Cliffs’ swarm of sightseers.

The Cliffs of Moher also hold interest for birdwatchers.  With over 20,000 species of breeding seabirds nesting in the area, including the Puffin, Chough, Fulmar, Guillemot and Razorbill, the Cliffs of Moher are in the Special Protection Area.  Visitors are required to remain on the stone pathways that line the cliff’s face; anyone who deems it necessary to climb over the wall and challenge the Cliffs’ edge will be promptly asked to vacate the premises.  Truly, I didn’t have much interest in venturing close to the edge anyway—as the gale force winds would often give abrupt bursts that sent the visitors sprawling.

Of course, common sense is not abundant in all of mankind.  Many people deemed it necessary to tempt fate and challenge the wind, climbing over the wall and flitting about the cliff’s continuously collapsing edge.  Thanks, but no thanks.  Before World War II, however, going over the edge was a popular way to both catch food and pass the time, fourteen or so people lowering one man down the cliff’s face on a long rope.  The climber would, if hunting, take along a separate rope with a noose at one end, slipping the loop over an unsuspecting nesting bird’s head and snaring supper.  He would then ring its neck, throw it in a basket, and continue down the drop.  Needless to say, this was not the safest of professions.

All in all, I can’t but agree with the locals: if you are travelling in Ireland, you shouldn’t leave before paying a visit to the Cliffs.  They attract thousands of visitors year round from all corners of the world.  Even on the rainy, February day that we decided to visit I could hear French, German, English and Italian languages all around me.  My only suggestions are to dress warmly, try to find a day that it isn’t raining, and to be sure to not forget your camera.  The Cliffs are sure to awaken a hidden sense of wonder.


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