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On the Cliffs of Moher Sits O’Brien’s Tower: A Land Where Legends Have Risen and Witches Have Fallen

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The Cliffs of Moher are sea cliffs located in County Clare, in the southern Irish province of Munster. These cliffs cover a distance of about 8 km (5 miles), the highest point of which is marked by a monument known as O’Brien’s Tower. The Cliffs of Moher are renowned for the spectacular scenery of the Atlantic that they offer. Apart from that, this is also a landmark rich in legends.

The Cliffs of Moher are today one of the most popular tourist destinations in Ireland. This is not surprising, considering what they have to offer. It is known that travelers have been visiting the cliffs as early as the late 18 th century. Nevertheless, it was only during the following century that the potential of tourism to generate the local economy was recognized, thanks to a man by the name of Cornelius O’Brien.

The dramatic landscape of the Cliffs of Moher. (Image credit: Ioannis Syrigos)

The dramatic landscape of the Cliffs of Moher. (Image credit: Ioannis Syrigos)

The Patron of O’Brien’s Tower

Cornelius O’Brien was born around 1782 in Birchfield, Liscannor, County Clare. O’Brien was an interesting figure in his own right, serving as a proctor, solicitor and magistrate for County Clare, and then as the MP for the county later on in his life. O’Brien was also a landowner and is remembered for taking good care of his tenants. For instance, during the Great Famine, O’Brien is believed to have waived the rent imposed on his tenants, so as to ease their burden a little. O’Brien’s Tower is one of the few memorials that we have of this man.

O’Brien’s Tower serves as a memorial to the philanthropist who built it. (Image credit: Ioannis Syrigos)

According to one version of the story, O’Brien had built the tower to impress the women he was courting. Another version of the tale states that the tower had been built as an observatory for the visitors who were coming to the cliffs at that time. This would benefit the local economy, as it would create new jobs, and therefore help the local population out of poverty. In any case, O’Brien’s Tower was built of Liscannor flagstone, and is three stories high. The top of the tower is crenelated and may be used as a viewing platform. It is said that on clear days, one could see as far west as the Aran Islands, and as far north as the Twelve Bens (known also as the Twelve Pins) in Connemara beyond Galway Bay. In recent times, restoration work was carried out on O’Brien’s Tower, and the monument now houses a gift shop and a gallery for local artists as well.

The O’Brien Tower is an ever-popular tourist spot. (Image credit: Ioannis Syrigos)

The O’Brien Tower is an ever-popular tourist spot. (Image credit: Ioannis Syrigos)

Legends of the Cliffs of Moher

The brethtaking landscape of the Cliffs of Moher has also inspired numerous legends. One of these, for instance, relates to a rock formation known as Hag’s Head. According to this legend, there was a witch called Mal who was madly in love with Cu Chulainn, a legendary hero in Irish mythology. Cu Chulainn, however, did not reciprocate these feelings, causing Mal to chase him all over Ireland. The pair eventually arrived south of the Cliffs of Moher, on the mouth of the Shannon River, and the hero leapt to Diarmuid and Grainne’s Rock, an island. Mal followed, and, thanks to a gust of wind, landed on the island too. As soon as the witch got onto the island, Cu Chulainn leapt back, and the witch followed. Unfortunately, there was no wind this time, and Mal fell to her death. The rocks on which Mal fell became known as Hag’s Head, as they are believed to have taken on the shape of Mal’s profile.

Cliffs of Moher south of the O’Brien Tower. (Image credit: Ioannis Syrigos)

Cliffs of Moher south of the O’Brien Tower. (Image credit: Ioannis Syrigos)

Another legend tells of a sunken city called Kilstiffen. According to this tale, the city sank under the waves when the chieftain lost the golden key that opened the doors of the castle. The legend also states that the city will remain submerged until the golden key is returned. Some have claimed that the underwater city can be seen below the surface of the sea, whilst others believe that the city rises once every seven years. There may be a basis for this legend, as submerged forests and bogs from ancient times are visible within the reef of Liscannor Bay.

View out from O’Brien’s Tower to the Cliffs of Moher. (Image credit: Ioannis Syrigos)

View out from O’Brien’s Tower to the Cliffs of Moher. (Image credit: Ioannis Syrigos)

Top image: The O’Brien Tower on the Cliffs of Moher, County Clare. Credit: Ioannis Syrigos

By: Wu Mingren

References

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Available at: https://www.cliffsofmoher.ie/about-the-cliffs/history/

Discovering Ireland Vacations, 2018. The Cliffs of Moher. [Online]
Available at: https://www.discoveringireland.com/vacations/the-cliffs-of-moher/

Keough, M., 2018. Ancient Irish legends surrounding the beautiful Cliffs of Moher. [Online]
Available at: https://www.irishcentral.com/travel/best-of-ireland/irish-myths-legends-cliffs-moher

McIntyre, P., 2007. Cornelius O’Brien and the Cliffs of Moher. [Online]
Available at: https://www.historyireland.com/18th-19th-century-history/cornelius-obrien-and-the-cliffs-of-moher/

www.aranislands.ie, 2017. O’Brien’s Tower. [Online]
Available at: http://www.aranislands.ie/o-brien-s-tower/

www.britainirelandcastles.com , 2018. Castles of Ireland - O Brien's Tower. [Online]
Available at: http://www.britainirelandcastles.com/Ireland/County-Clare/O-Brien's-Tower.html

www.ireland.com, 2018. O’Brien’s Tower and the Cliffs of Moher. [Online]
Available at: https://www.ireland.com/what-is-available/natural-landscapes-and-sights/articles/obriens-tower-and-the-cliffs-of-moher/

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