Nothing says success like the Cliffs of Moher in Co. Clare, Ireland’s top tourist attraction.
Ten years ago, a new visitor and interpretive center opened there, and from then on the Cliffs have enjoyed ever increasing attendance, a fact highlighted by the more than a million visitors who have come by every year for the past four years.
The million figure was reached on Aug. 11 this year, 11 days ahead of the millionth visitor in 2016, and 10 weeks earlier than in 2014, the first time a million visitors were recorded at the Cliffs.
While the incredible popularity of this tourist attraction cannot be entirely credited to management, Director Katherine Webster certainly deserves to take a long, deep bow for her leadership of the site since 2005.
She was at the helm during construction of the new center, which is carved into the hillside, and she supervised the improvement of exterior assets, too, such as pathways along the Cliffs and up to the popular O’Brien’s Tower. The tower, which, by the way, nearly every visitor climbs up to see, was built at the highest point of the Cliffs at Knockardakin in 1835 by Cornelius O’Brien - local landlord and descendant of Brian Boru, the first high king of Ireland.
The tower was restored in 1970 and again in 2008 and is a perfect viewing point for the Cliffs and Aran Islands. On a clear day, visitors can look across Galway Bay to Connemara to the north and south to the Kerry Mountains.
Webster has also guided the facility on work to alleviate ongoing issues such as parking - a challenge to any busy tourist attraction.
This summer, visitors were advised to come before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m., Webster said, so they could enjoy the majesty of the Cliffs in the shoulder of the day and be free from the crush of massive crowds. And, really, what could be nicer than seeing sunrise or the moon over the Cliffs?
While you’re there, be sure to note that the Cliffs are home to the largest colony of nesting seabirds on mainland Ireland, including a number of endangered and rare species. There are more than 20 species of nesting birds there, including nine species of nesting seabirds and up to 30,000 breeding pairs of seabirds. There are petrel, herons, gannets, skylarks, gulls of course, rock doves, ravens, goldfinch, stonechats, and wagtails to name just a few. They make for great bird watching when you sign on for one of many boat tours available in the area.
The Cliffs are not the only reason to visit Co. Clare. There is much, much more to see and experience in this fascinating area.
Be sure to spend time in the limestone karst landscape of the Burren, a Unesco Global Geopark that covers nearly 100 square miles. Its magical, stark hills, wildlife, and rare flowers have inspired artists and writers over the centuries.
Would you believe this bleak, grey landscape is host to 25 of 27 orchid species native to Ireland, as well as Mediterranean and Arctic-Alpine plants rarely found in Ireland. Some of the Arctic-Alpine plants include mountain aven, spring gentian, and spring sandwort.
Mediterranean plants are maidenhead fern, dense-flowered orchid, and burnet rose.
While you’re exploring the area, don’t miss the popular Poulnabrone dolmen and some of the 70 other megalithic tombs of all shapes and sizes in the Burren.
The informative Burren Centre in Kilfenora is a great place to start, especially if you watch the video by acclaimed photographer Eamonn de Buitlear (details at theburrencentre.ie). The center has a gift shop and café and is next door to the Kilfenora Cathedral ruins and one of the greatest concentrations of high crosses in Ireland, including the famed “Doorty Cross.”
WILD HONEY INN
When you’re ready to relax after a day of adventure, there are many interesting and comfortable accommodations in the area.
In nearby Lisdoonvarna is The Wild Honey Inn that recently became the first pub in Ireland to win a Michelin Star. Owned and run by chef Aidan McGrath and his partner, Kate Sweeney, the Inn offers accommodation in addition to a unique menu.
Aidan is credited with developing his own culinary style, based on the French classical genre and many years of cooking. He uses locally sourced products and other Irish foods and describes his cooking as “Bistronomy – a lighter style of cooking or refined bistro cooking.”
The Inn, which dates back to 1860, was renovated in 2009 and has a range of rooms available. For more information, go to wildhoneyinn.com.
Another interesting place to stay would be Mount Vernon in New Quay, a Georgian villa once owned by Lady Gregory of Abbey Theatre fame. The house has views over Galway Bay and is part of the Hidden Ireland list of historic private homes where visitors stay as guests. There are four rooms available for B&B. See details at hiddenireland.com or mountvernon.ie.
We always make a point to visit the Burren Perfumery in Carran for delicious, fresh lunches as well as a walk through the lovely gardens and a stop in the shop for soaps and lotions made there.
Lisdoonvarna is home to the Burren Smokehouse, Birgitta, and Peter Curtin’s immensely successful business that produces the most delicious smoked salmon, rainbow trout and mackerel and other delicacies (burrensmokehouse.com.) We never pass through Shannon Airport without buying Burren Smokehouse salmon (in assorted flavors) – and also McCambridge’s soda bread – to make the Irish experience linger just a little bit longer. (You can buy McCambridge’s here: Foodireland.com) The visitor center at the Smokehouse is well worth a visit if you’re in Lisdoonvarna.
We also bring home interesting jams/jellies and mustards from David and Vera Muir’s Clare Jam Company in Doolin, chocolates from The Doolin Chocolate Shop, Hazel Mountain “bean to bar” chocolate in Bellharbour (and in the shop at 6 Middle St. in Galway City) and Wilde Irish Chocolates from Tuamgraney, along with delicious Burren Gold cheese from the Ailwee Cave Farmshop and more.
We always look for St. Tola Goat Cheese while in Ireland. We stopped there once to visit the goats and watch cheese making - it’s a fascinating process.
As for restaurants in Co. Clare, there are many and, honestly, we’ve never had a bad meal there. Most pubs sell more than just soup, sandwiches, and brews. We’ve had excellent dinners in McDermott’s Pub (mcdermottspub.com), O’Connor’s Pub (gusoconnorspubdoolin.net) and Fitzpatrick’s (hoteldoolin.ie/fitzs-pub-doolin), all in Doolin.
While in Doolin - where I stay at Riverfield House – finer fare is offered at the Roadford House (roadfordrestaurant.com) and Cullinan’s Seafood Restaurant (cullinansdoolin.com.) And, don’t forget that Doolin is famed for trad music and it’s available in many places.
Heading north, I have stopped at The Soda Parlour in Ballyvaughan for yummy crepes and for lunch one sunny afternoon at Gregan’s Castle Hotel at the foot of Corkscrew Hill.
If you’re in the area, you might also try the Anchor Inn in Liscannor, Linnane’s lobster bar and seafood restaurant in New Quay (linnanesbar.com) and L’Arco Italian Café in Ballyvaughan. You’ll find your own favorite places to stop for a bite as you travel around.
One fun activity in Ballyvaughan if you’re there during the season is the craft fair held every Sunday in the Village Hall from May to October. Crafts for sale include photography, jewelry, stained glass and much, much more.
Be sure to look for Celtic Caprine goat milk soap by Janis James, once from Massachusetts who swapped New England’s vistas for a fairytale outlook over the Burren in Co. Clare. Janis’s soaps are sold throughout Ireland and we’ve bought them on several occasions at The Beehive on Achill Island and at O’Reilly & Turpin in Westport, both in Co. Mayo.
Not a shopper? How about heading a bit south along the coast to Lahinch for Lahinch Adventures where you can enjoy rock climbing, surfing, archery or cycling (bike hire is available.) See lahinchadventures.com for more.
Lahinch is also known as a surfing mecca. See lahinchsurfexperience.com for information on lessons for adults, students and kids and rentals of wetsuits and other equipment.
No matter when you visit Ireland, you’ll be sure to find your favorite fun and interesting things to do, places to go, stay and eat. Be on the lookout for Christmas markets this month and next in Galway (galwaychristmasmarket.ie), Waterford (winterval.ie), Limerick (milkmarketlimerick.ie), Dublin (dublinatchristmas.ie), Cork (corkchristmascelebration.ie), and Belfast (visit-belfast.com.)
Have great fun when you go, wherever you go, and whatever you do. See Ireland.com for regional timely activities.