6. An alien invasion ... ?
The word ‘alien’ is one of those words, the meaning of which has undergone some subtle changes over the years. These days people generally think of aliens as being bug-eyed visitors from some far-flung corner of another galaxy but, 50 years ago, an alien was more likely to be someone from another country, like Germany or Sweden, somewhere where they didn’t speak English. So when, in September 1964, a headline in the Clare Champion declared that The buying of land by aliens criticised, it was not referring to the imminent arrival of ET and his friends. (For those of a certain age who don’t know what ET stands for, let me pass on a story from my teaching days when, in a hushed and secretive tone, a pupil in my class told me that he’d seen the film and now knew the meaning of ET. I leaned my head closer and he whispered with convincing authority, “Extra Testical”. Who was I to argue?) The 65 acres of Clare land that was of interest certain ‘aliens’ was, at the time, owned by two cousins, Danny and Kathleen Considine. The was part of the small townland of Lislorkan North sandwiched between the main road and the sea. Here the Considine families kept cattle and, from time to time, they lost a few head when the animals, not au fait with the dangers of munching the grass too close to the sea, fell off the Cliffs of Moher.
Danny had tried to protect the cliff-edge by placing flags along it but, from time to time, tourists would push one or two over the edge just to hear the splash and, in doing so, they’d leave a gap wide enough for the hapless cattle attracted by the grass, which was always greener, on the other side. Vandalism, it seems, is not a modern phenomenon. Representatives of two different parties—both German—interested in buying the land talked to the Considine families and, when word got out, the spectre of the Cliffs of Moher, a minor tourist attraction at the time, becoming the property of ‘aliens’ focussed the mind of local journalists, eager to tap (and type) into their tabloid gene.
That said, there was no sense of there being a specific issue with the fact that the ‘aliens’ were German, any more than there would have been if they had been Swedes, Spanish or even American. An ‘alien’ was anyone not Irish. Clare County Council’s County Officer, Joe Boland, was soon on the case and, brandishing his authority to buy up land for and on behalf of the County Council, he purchased just over two acres of the land which fronted the Cliffs. With access to the Cliffs themselves effectively scuppered, the ‘aliens’ packed away all their newly-painted roadside fingerposts for Die Klippen von Moher and returned whence they came.
Over the succeeding years Clare County Council bought more land from the Considine families and now owns just over half the original acreage. Not surprisingly, more Americans visit the Cliffs of Moher annually than any other nationality but it’s good to note that there remains no ill feeling towards German visitors who, at the time of writing, are the second highest group of ‘aliens’ made welcome at the Cliffs of Moher every year.