Introducing Cliffs of Moher
Star of a million tourist brochures, the Cliffs of Moher (Aillte an Mothair, or Ailltreacha Mothair) are one of the most popular sights in Ireland. But like many an ageing star, you have to look beyond the famous facade to appreciate the inherent attributes behind the postcard image.
The entirely vertical cliffs rise to a height of 203m, their edge falling away abruptly into the constantly churning sea. A series of heads, the dark limestone seems to march in a rigid formation that amazes, no matter how many times you look.
Such appeal comes at a price: mobs. This is check-off tourism big time and busloads come and go constantly in summer. A vast visitor centre handles the hordes. Set back into the side of a hill, it's impressively unimpressive – it blends right in. As part of the development, however, the main walkways and viewing areas along the cliffs have been surrounded by a 1.5m-high wall. It's lovely stone, but it's also way too high and set too far back from the edge. The entire reason for coming here (the view – unless you're a bus-spotter) is obscured.
But, like so many oversubscribed natural wonders, there's relief and joy if you're willing to walk for 10 minutes. Past the end of the 'Moher Wall' south, there's still a trail along the cliffs to Hag's Head – few venture this far. There's also a path heading north, but you're discouraged from it, so use your common sense. With binoculars you can spot the more than 30 species of birds – including darling little puffins – that make their homes among the fissure-filled cliff faces. On a clear day you'll channel Barbra Streisand as you can see forever; the Aran Islands stand etched on the waters of Galway Bay, and beyond lie the hills of Connemara in western Galway.
The roads leading to the cliffs pass through refreshingly undeveloped lands, the rolling hills giving no hint of the dramatic vistas just over the edge.
For uncommon views of the cliffs and wildlife you might consider a cruise. The boat operators in Doolin offer popular tours of the cliffs.