The Cliffs of Moher

These cliffs, in County Clare, Ireland, featured in the movie “The Princess Bride” When you first leave the parking lot, you find this wordless but sound advice.

Cliffs of Moher warning
Cliffs of Moher warning

You would be wise to heed the warning; they are crumbly, very high and there is usually a high wind which can shift suddenly.  Not all do, of course, so some get a Darwin award (for removing themselves from the gene pool).  Sadly, when I googled the cliffs to make sure I got the spelling right, one of the first hits was from the Clare Herald reporting that a body had just been recovered from the bottom.

On top of the cliffs, you’ll find a watch tower – it gets a clear view into the Atlantic:

Cliffs of Moher watch tower
Cliffs of Moher watch tower

The man gives you an idea of the scale.  The following view of the cliffs, with the tower on top, gives you an idea of the scale of the cliffs and reminds you why the warning is needed.

Cliffs of Moher
Cliffs of Moher

The cliffs are a major tourist attraction.  Luckily, we were there off season so it wasn’t very crowded.  The local authorities take good care to preserve the beauty of the cliffs.  One way they do that, while allowing local craft stores to benefit from the tourist euros is to bury the stores in the nearby hill:

Moher gift shops
Moher gift shops

For Peat’s Sake – Down the Old Bog Road

Anyone who knows about Ireland at all will have heard of the peat bogs.  Peat is still used extensively for heating.  On our previous trip to Ireland, in 2007, we had a peat fire in our rented home:

Peat fire
Peat fire

It is quite a warm fire and lasts longer than wood, but not quite as long as coal.  Near Clifden, where we stayed on both trips, there are lots of bogs.  One of the roads across the bogs is called “The Old Bog Road”, so naturally, there is lots of peat to be found there.  It is very actively cut.  Here are some piles, drying:

The Old Bog Road
The Old Bog Road – peat, drying.

It is still cut by hand (and foot).  They use something like an ordinary garden spade except it has an extra blade at right-angles sticking forward from one edge of the main blade, so that it cuts the chunk of peat off cleanly.  Here is a face in the bog that they got these piles from:

The Old Bog Road
The Old Bog Road – Peat Works

There is so much burned that when we last went through Limerick, the whole town was blanketed in a thick, yellow fog.  We got lost crossing the road, unable to find the other side because even our fingers were lost in the fog when held at arms length.

The bog is only about 7-10,000 years old, beginning with the end of the last ice age.  Some think it was caused by the advent of humans to Ireland, as we cut down many trees and started cultivating land, which started blocking streams and filling the land with water.  The peat is just thousands of years of growth of moss and reeds, which did not rot away because the soil and water is so acidic.  This preservative quality also leads to many fascinating archaeological discoveries because anything falling into the bog, including humans and other animals, are preserved very well.  In fact, for a while, a lot of the timber used in western Ireland was recovered from the bogs and reused.

Unfortunately, human activity has now used up about 85% of the peat and the rate of cutting is still close to its peak so soon it will all be gone except that there are now conservation areas where cutting is forbidden.  In addition to the loss of the habitat which supports a large number of unique plant species, the loss of all that stored carbon into the atmosphere is a large contributor to climate change.

Further back in time…. before the pyramids

About 6,000 years ago, in what is now County Sligo on the west coast of Ireland, towards the northern end of Ireland, our ancestors were busy building large tombs which predate the pyramids.  This pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is a huge cairn.

Rainbow at Carrowmore
Rainbow at Carrowmore

The cairn is huge, about 3m high (10′) and 35m long (120′), an enormous amount of work with stone-age tools.  The main tomb was buried inside.  A passageway has recently been cut into the cairn to reveal the tomb.  Here it is with your intrepid narrator for scale:

Inner tomb at Carrowmore
Inner tomb at Carrowmore

Imagine placing that capstone by hand.  This site, at Carrowmore, has dozens of megalithic artefacts.  Here is a stone circle about 400m from the cairn:

Stone circle at Carrowmore
Stone circle at Carrowmore

I found myself staring at these for a long time, in sheer amazement at the engineering and wondering about the lives of our ancestors about 200 generations ago which would cause them to build and use these monuments.  One more:

Megalith at Carrowmore
Megalith at Carrowmore

That’s the earliest we got on our travels for this holiday. The next post will be of more recent sites.