A History Lesson at the Cliffs of Moher

As our whirlwind tour of Ireland continued, we found ourselves leaving Galway via a tour bus bound for the world renowned Cliffs of Moher.


Clearing skies at the picturesque Cliffs of Moher

Rising over 120 meters above the Atlantic Ocean, the cliffs are a world-famous attraction drawing in nearly one million visitors a year and are part of The Burren Geopark UNESCO natural protected area. Which is really just travel-speak for “these cliffs are mind-blowingly beautiful and deservedly one of Ireland’s best attractions”.

Seeing as our visit was part of a day tour, we enjoyed a relaxing drive through the acclaimed regions of Ballyvaughan and the Burren, which are comprised of martian landscapes, rugged shoreline, and over 6000 years of history.

We also managed to squeeze in a couple stops before reaching the cliffs. We began with a stop in the small seaside village of Kinvara to see the amazing Dunguaire Castle. Perched spectacularly on the water’s edge, the castle dates back to the 16th century and is thought to be the most photographed castle in Ireland.


Admiring the Irish countryside


Traditional thatched roof houses in The Burren region


Dunguaire Castle on a clear winter morning

Our next stop was the 13th century Corcomroe Abbey, a crumbling Cistercian monastery that is nearly as photogenic as the hairy cows and sheep that wander its grounds. After getting our fill of photos, we made a quick stop for an Irish coffee (to warm up) before setting off in search of some neolithic history.

With human habitation dating back more than 6000 years, the Burren is rich with interesting archaeological sites. As we were making good time, we decided to make two stops before lunch, the first of which was Cahermore Ring Fort. In all, the Burren contains more than 400 of these circular remains, with Cahermore being one of the oldest and best preserved. Dating back to approximately 500 AD, the fort provided protection from the elements and wildlife (there were even bears back then!). It was an absolutely amazing site to walk through.


Corcomroe Abbey is hauntingly beautiful


Cahermore Ring Fort, a 3000 year old residence


The Poulnabrone dolmen, a neolithic burial tomb

Our final stop before lunch was perhaps the most intriguing. The Poulnabrone dolmen is a neolithic portal tomb that dates back to somewhere between 4200 and 2900 BCE. I always struggle to fully grasp how old a site is. Unlike other forms of measurement, time is so very difficult to put into context and looking at anything older than a couple hundred years in comparison to the meager amount of time’s I’ve circumvented the sun doesn’t really register. Therefore, when standing alongside a neolithic burial tomb that was built well over 5,000 years ago (or roughly 192 of my own lifetimes) it was difficult to wrap my head around life during this time.

Luckily, with just a few clicks and choice words online I was able to add at least a bit of context to our day. During the period in which the Neolithic temple and circle were built:

  • the first bluestones at Stonehenge begin to be raised (3000 BC);
  • the Mayan calendar starts on August 11, 3114 BC (the same calendar that had everyone worried the world would end in 2012);
  • construction of the Ggantija megalithic temple complex begins on the island of Gozo, Malta (3600 BC);
  • the first neolithic settlers arrive in the island of Thira (Santorini), Greece (4000 BC).

And while the wheel had already been invented, and the Mesopotamian civilization was flourishing along the Nile, the Neolithic remains in Ireland are part of a handful of still-intact sites scattered across Europe, the Middle East, and Asia that can still be explored today.


Dark clouds moving in? We must be in Ireland!


Cutting and moving these stones would have been back breaking work

However as impressively old as these Neolithic sites are, in the end they couldn’t stand up to the Cliffs of Moher – which also happen to contain evidence of 300 million year-old river channels cutting through their rocky foundations, making the cliffs 60,000 times older than the Neolithic tombs and eleven and a half million times older than myself (also known as too old for this method to provide any form of context).

While Ireland is brimming with charming towns painted in rich hues and lush rolling hills crisscrossed by endless miles of short stone walls, a visit to Ireland feels incomplete until you’ve taken in the stunning Cliffs of Moher.


The Cliffs in all their glory – from sea to sky!

Quintessentially Irish, the rugged rock cliffs rise in a dramatic fashion from the deep blue water below, while and the crashing waves send wisps of mist up and over the cliff face and into the faces of the unsuspecting visitors above. Complete with a charming castle, officially called O’Brien’s Tower and built in 1835 to impress female visitors, and stunning vistas, the Cliffs of Moher are picturesque and incredibly romantic, especially at sunset.


In the harsh sunlight the Cliffs appear to stretch on forever


O’Brien’s Tower, impressing the fairer sex since 1835


The Cliffs of Moher at sunset are the epitome of romantic – minus the rain and bone chilling wind

We spent nearly two and a half hours wandering along the cliffs – marveling at the power of the waves crashing and the wind gusting. Even at the top, nearly 200 meters above the crashing waters below we could feel the sea mist against our face and smell the salty sea below.

If you haven’t had the privileged of visiting the cliffs in person, you may have marveled at their beauty without even knowing it as they have made appearances in several blockbuster films – most notably The Princess Bride and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. However, even if you’ve snuggled in with a bowl of popcorn to enjoy one of these movies, we’d still highly recommend a visit to the cliffs to take in their majesty in person.

Logistics: Although far from the regular tour-bus type, after finding some success with something similar in Gozo, Malta, and realizing there was little way for us to reach Ireland’s more secluded sites without renting a car (and driving on the wrong left side of the road), we decided to hop aboard and explore both the Giant’s Causeway (from Belfast) and the Cliffs of Moher a few days later (from Galway).

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