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Folk, fables and foibles the guidebook forgot to mention
  • Fergus Manor

5. Ireland’s greatest ...

Continuing the theme of the ‘greatest’ and those ‘top ten’ lists that festoon—some might say ‘plague’—the internet, the attraction that tourists seem to put atop their list for Ireland is, surprise, surprise, the Cliffs of Moher. Based on 2019 figures, feet on the ground say that the Cliffs are second to the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. With 1.6 million as opposed to 1.7 million visitors, it’s a close call. That said, when voting for a preferred day out, the baton passes to the Cliffs and the Guinness experience drops down the rankings. There was a time, well within living memory, when getting to and viewing the Cliffs of Moher involved a much greater effort. There was neither Visitor Centre nor adjoining car parks, only on-the-road parking, a hope that the proximity of other cars was an indication that you were at the right spot, a stile or rusty farm gate to cross ... and the fervent hope that, given the erratic local weather, your footwear would survive the experience. A further complication was negotiating the ‘custodians’ of the Cliffs, the local pipe-smoking dog, Smokey, sitting atop a donkey, itself often straddling a smaller dog and all three looked after by their jovial owner, Michael Nagle, who forbade the taking of photographs until his outstretched hand sensed the presence of cash. Such an intrinsically Irish experience was deemed a price worth paying this far off the beaten track and to this day photos of Michael, Smokey and their nameless braying friend, adorn photo albums all over the world. Alas there are no pipe-smoking dogs and accommodating donkeys at the Cliffs of Moher these days and, though some might frown on what has taken their place, the Visitor Centre is outstanding and puts this astonishing, natural landmark into its geographical, geological and historical context. It is entirely possible that the total number of visitors to the Cliffs may considerably exceed the official 1.6 million figure for, as cars entering the car parks pay for the privilege on a ‘per passenger’ basis, many drivers opt to drop off their passengers down the road from the car park. For Ardilaun-based visitors there is an alternative to the drive (and an opportunity to give the driver a break) in the form of the 350 bus from Ennis Bus Station and the choice of returning to Ennis later in the day or going on to Galway for a couple of hours and an early evening bus or train back to Ennis. However you get to the Cliffs of Moher, they are, with or without a pipe-smoking dog on a donkey, the stunning jewel in Clare’s crown. My wife’s first experience of them was of crossing a field to be briefly held to ransom by Smokey and his bandits while, three decades later, I first encountered the Cliffs via a minibus and the Visitor Centre. Nevertheless the memories are the same for both ... high, majestic cliffs, pleated like a giant curtain to stem the wild Atlantic, that take your breath away. And to think it nearly all fell into the hands of ‘aliens’ ... another blog beckons …

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