The dramatic Cliffs of Moher may be mute, but they have plenty of stories to tell. Attracting nearly one million visitors per year, the Cliffs of Moher are one of Ireland’s premier tourist destinations and are located in County Clare.
Just North of O’Brien’s tower they reach an impressive 214 metres above sea-level, then run 8 kilometres along the Irish Atlantic coastline until they reach the poetically named Hag’s Head which rises to 120 metres above sea-level.
The challenging coastline and incredible views make the cliffs an extremely popular destination for walking tours and cycling holidays, and provide an almost unending source of local myths and legends to dissect and discuss on the journey. Here are three of the best to regale friends and strangers with over a well-earned Guinness following a hard days trek or thrilling cycle ride across the cliffs.
1. The Tale of Maul the Aulde Hag
The Cliffs of Moher are where the sorry legend of ‘Maul the Aulde Hag’ comes to an end. Maul was a woman who was adept at witchcraft and would often use it for her personal gain. She fell in love with a man called Cú Chulainn but her feelings were unrequited.
After she had chased him across hills and lush valleys, they came to Loop Head in County Clare. Cú Chulainn, who had some magical powers of his own, leapt from the mainland to a nearby island so Mag decided to use her powers to follow him. As Cú Chulainn used the Aran Islands as stepping stones to escape her clutches and jump back onto the mainland, Mag’s own jump fell short and she splintered against the rocks, turning the water red as far as the Cliffs of Moher as she bled to death. You can still see her face etched in the rock at Hag’s Head.
2. The Tale of the Leap of Foals
The dramatic ‘Leap of the Foals’ legend also reaches its end at the cliffs. The Tuatha Dé Danann (peoples of the goddess Danu), a mythical people of Ireland, were unhappy when St. Patrick introduced Christianity to Ireland.
One day they magically transformed themselves into foals and hid in a cave near the cliffs of Moher, planning to take their revenge. However, when they finally emerged from the caves, the light of day reflected off the sea water was so strong that it frightened them. In a blind panic, they ran straight over the cliffs to their death.
3. The Thrilling Tale of Cornelius O’Brien’s Fence
It may not sound like the most exciting of tales from the outset, but the most recent stories involving the cliffs centre on Cornelius O’Brien, a descendant of the legendary Irish King Brian Boru. It was Cornelius who gave his name to O’Brien’s tower in 1835 which was supposedly built to impress the ladies who visited the cliffs.
A man of vision, O’Brien saw the touristic potential of the Cliffs and gave permission for the tower to be used as an observation point for the many tourists who visited the Cliffs looking for historical drama while on holiday. Legend has it that O’Brien, a member of County Clare parliament, supposedly made a bet with his English contemporaries that he could build a fence which was one mile long, an inch thick and a yard high.
What the English didn’t know was that the Cliffs were situated near Liscannor which was renowned for its huge flagstones, the perfect size for O’Brien’s wall. He won his bet with ease, and these extraordinary flagstones were used throughout the 19th century to create floors in farmhouses, and still bear the traces of fossilized eels. O’Brien’s remains were laid to rest in the O’Brien vault, and are still there today.
Even if you don’t know anything about the legends and histories which surround the Cliffs, they are still a majestic feature of the Irish coastline and a beacon for all types of travellers, from studious history-lovers, to thrill-seekers on adventure holidays. The languorous curves which imitate the waves lapping at their feet seem to be chiselled by a local craftsman, while the cool spray blowing off the Atlantic refreshes and calms. However, the violent deaths associated with the Cliffs remind us of how forbidding they really are – a true wonder of nature.
Guest writer, Martin loves to travel and cannot wait for his next holiday in Ireland
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