Cliffs of Moher on a blustery day!

Trip Start Mar 01, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Ireland  , Munster,
Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"A blue sky in Ireland in December is a tourist attraction!" PJ, our Lally's Tour Guide

What a beautiful day! I checked the weather report, because I’d been told that if there’s fog you can’t see a thing. (Reminiscent of my 3am drive up to Haleakula in March…) But it was perfect- there was even sunshine on the coast!

We started our day with a guided walk through the Burren on O’Connoly’s farm.  In addition to homemade pies served in their Granny’s kitchen, (they sold the last cherry brownie to the Swiss girl in front of me. I was not happy) they raise calves on the farm and we got to say hello to a few of the residents along with Coco, the very cute King Spaniel. The Burren, or Place of Rock in Gaelic, is a UNESCO site that was created 350 million years ago.  It covers 250 square kilometres in County Clare, just about an hour away from Galway.  The area is known for its wild flowers.  Unfortunately, they are of the warm weather variety, but in the spring and summer 650 types of flower bloom here, which is nearly 75% of Ireland’s native species of flora.  There’s a pretty, 5-petal, blue flower that only grows here and in Switzerland.  The area is surrounded by ireland’s version of mountains- really just pretty hills and all privately owned, which is unusual for a UNESCO site- which appear to be covered entirely by rock.  Though once you’ve hiked through them, it’s apparent that there is plenty of greenery. The farmers brought in sand and seaweed from Galway Bay and used it to create the fields.  They aren’t fertile enough to grow crops, but they are perfect for grazing cattle and sheep which are here in abundance. The soil is actually warm, never falling below 6 degrees C because the limestone soaks up the heat from the sun.  It also absorbs rainwater and below ground are a series of rivers.

When the farmers cleared the land of rocks for the fields, they piled them to create walls that divide the property lines.  The rocks are called dry stone walls because they are erected without any mortar or cement.  Standing in the Burren, you can also see stone walls climbing the mountains.  These actually serve no practical purpose. After the potato famine, when poverty and starvation became chaotic, the local government created jobs by having the locals build these walls.

During our hike we pass a strange tree, covered with strips of fabric and other mementos.  They call it the Fairy Tree.  While the Irish are very Catholic, they still have strong Pagan traditions.  The fairies were believed to be life-size creatures with very pale skin.  They fought a battle (can’t remember against whom…) and lost.  As a result they were condemned to live forever underground.  Legend has it that if you tie your troubles to the tree the fairies will take them away for you. Until Christianity was brought to Ireland, Gaelic was solely an oral language, so many stories about the area’s history are explained in this manner.

On this clear day from the top of the hill, you can see Galway Bay, the coast of Connemara and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. On the coast there is a small castle, called Martello Castle. The design comes from Corsica and the name means hammer. The British worried that Napoleon might invade England by way of Ireland, so they built the castle for protection, but he attack never arrived.  Further inland you can see the ruins of the Kirkenrow Abbey, built 800 years ago.  Towards the south you can see the Seven Churches of Uhmama.  Only three were ever completed, but seven is a magical number according to Celtic tradition, so the name stuck. Also integral to Celtic tradition is the interlacing lines that adorn jewelry and signposts.  It is a symbol of the continuity of life.

On our way to the Cliffs we pass through the village of Lisdoonvarna.  It is home to Europe’s largest matchmaking festival every autumn.  The matchmaker shuns all modern electronic dating and prefers to do things the old fashioned way.  His theory is based on the tradition of the farmers who used to come to town in search of a wife after the harvest season.  If they didn’t find one, they’d sadly return to the fields for another year. 

We arrive at the Cliffs and are greeted by sunshine and stunning views.  People have told me the the west coast of Ireland is similar to the northern California coast, and I can now see why.  The wild surf, the high cliffs and the black rocks below look like just the views you get driving down Highway One.  The Cliffs of Moher are 650 feet tall and five miles long and it’s only 3,000 kilometers west to North America.  Atop the highest point sits O’Brians’ Tower.  It was built in 1535 as an observation point and still functions as that today.  I didn’t make it inside- it looked closed, but the views from the pathway were just beautiful.  It was really cold and the wind could almost sweep you off your feet, so I kept clear of the edge. The only thing that could have made it better would be a rainbow and a pot of gold.
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