Cliffs of Moher, St. Bridget's Well (1891)

After passing Liscannor we turn to the left, a little beyond Seamount, and keeping alongside the sea, at Clohanes, for a short distance, mount the ascent to Hag's Head, on which stands one of the old telegraph towers, built on, or near, the site of "Moher fort," and from this elevation of 407 feet we have a view of Stookeen cliff, 580 feet, Aillenasharragh, 632 feet, and Knockardakin, 668 feet, above sea level, which is the highest of all that range. Here are miles of cliff in this extent of coast, from Hag's Head to Knockeracken, without any break or interruption, none of which are less than 400 feet in height, and to realize its grandeur fully, one must come to see it. Pedestrians often, as a choice, walk along these cliffs to the highest point beyond, but those who are not accustomed to such long walks should not attempt it. To the strong and the active it is a delightful exercise, with the invigorating sea air to breath in; however, for those who cannot scramble over the heather, and rough it, to a certain extent, the easier route is to keep to the road and to one's vehicle, which runs at the back of the cliffs, and soon, emerging on the main road turn to the left, and continuing the journey arrive at the foot of the highest range of coast, where stables and coach houses are available for the use of visitors.

Alighting here, we scale the sides of a declivity, and reaching, within some yards of the cliff, one's curiosity is excited on hearing sounds like that of the distant notes of the Highland bagpipes, which, however, on approaching nearer, we discover to proceed from thousands of sea-birds on the wing, of curious shape and colour, the most interesting of the number being, in our opinion, the "sea-parrot." On the ledges of the cliffs are discerned white objects which are inexplicable to one who is not sharp sighted, but with the aid of a telescope, the mystery is soon solved, in having these objects defined, which we discover to be sea-birds perched there, evidently the younger brood "contemplating the scene." On the platform of this cliff is fixed a remarkably large circular stone table, evidently one of those flags quarried in the vicinity, with stone seats all round, securely fixed on the solid rock. Here one can enjoy luncheon, while the wild birds, from almost innumerable throats, sing the thanksgiving. The view from this "table" rock is certainly enchanting; the face of the coast is seen to Hag's Head; the sides of the cliff at the point on which we stand almost overhang. It is so perpendicular that to look over it would make many a one dizzy. After resting the while, an ascent is made for "O'Brien's Tower." Stone flags are placed on end all along the face of the cliff, as a protection, and at certain "view points," there are "set-offs," so constructed that one can look down below, over the cliffs, without incurring any risk of falling over, and at abrupt points, nice flagged steps are fixed to make the ascent and descent easier; about half way up to "O'Brien's Tower" a pinnacled rock juts out into the sea from the base of the cliff, which is a remarkable object down below, partly covered with very scant verdure, and accessible only to some daring spirit, who would scale the cliff or let himself down by the aid of a rope fixed to the cliff above. On reaching "O'Brien's Tower" we find it was built for accommodating those who came prepared to dine on the spot; there is a kitchen for cooking purposes, and a spacious room overhead to which access is gained by steps, and from which one can ascend to the roof outside, to obtain a view. After enjoying the prospect we descend, and our next effort is to scale the side of the highest point of all; having reached the summit we are rewarded with a view of land and sea, island and promontory, which to describe in order to convey to our readers any idea of its grandeur and extent, would be an impossibility; nothing less than actual observation could even faintly picture the scene, and one should be under the influence of the exhilarating effects of the clear pure air of this elevated platform to realize all the beauty and grandeur of the situation.

To the South and East the view extends to the counties of Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary, Waterford, and Cork; the Galtee Mountains are distinctly observed-in fact, the landscape is only bounded by the horizon, because there is no other cliff, hill, mountain, or elevation, which intercepts the view, for scores of miles inland. Turning to the West, the Islands of Arran appear as if at one's feet set like emeralds in the crystal waters of the Atlantic, and with such a wide expanse of sea, one becomes fascinated, and as it were spell-bound. Northward, the prospect is just as pleasing; the County Galway and Blackhead appearing only a few miles distant, and the "Twelve Pins," in the County Mayo, just as if in the cloudland, yet distinctly visible to the naked eye. And if we are not "monarchs of all we survey," we certainly survey a prospect which a monarch might feel honoured at being privileged to gaze upon.

And standing here on this "tall cliff," nearly 700 feet above the sea, we should realize the fact that we are occupying a position on the nearest coast-line in Europe to the Western Hemisphere, and just as the electric spark is conveying messages under the sea from a neighbouring county on the same coast to the far west, may we not, in imagination, also speak across the waves with those who are near and dear to us on those shores beyond, which are washed by the same waves that are dashed against the cliff at our feet beneath.

Retracing our steps we are again traversing the road over which we travelled till we arrive at the turn of the road, and proceeding in a southerly direction, soon reach St. Bridget's Well. From the highway here a really fine view is obtained of Lahinch, Ennistymon, Liscannor, and the opposite shore of the bay. About midway to Liscannor, in the midst of a grove of trees, is the fine old mansion known as Birchfield, the seat of the late Cornelius O'Brien, for many years Member of Parliament for the County of Clare, and to whom the public are indebted for the tower on the summit of the cliffs, which bears his name. It was his money and enterprise which reclaimed the land surrounding the cliffs, and for a long distance inland. To his name, and to those who superintended the works for him, is due the honour of making the surrounding landscape so beautiful. The stables and coach-houses, built for the accommodation of the public, at the base of the cliffs, landward, if not the work of his own hand, are the work of his brain and his money paid for their erection; but now, alas, not a single member of his numerous family is alive to inherit the property which cost him so much to improve and beautify, and his late mansion, once so attractive, is fast going to decay. The "blessed well," which the late Mr. O'Brien did so much to ornament, is an interesting place to visit, because of the veneration in which it is held. St. Bridget is the Patron, and hundreds assemble here from distant parts of Clare and the neighbouring county on "Patron" days and at other times to pay their rounds and perform devotional exercises.

Adjoining St. Bridget's Well, in a neat cemetry, is the family vault of the O'Brien's of Birchfield, wherein the remains of the former head of that house reposes, and just across the road is a tall limestone column, surrounded by a nice plantation, with the landward side of the cliffs as a background, erected to his memory by public subscription; but the best testimony to Mr. O'Brien's useful life are the improvements effected on all the country round about these cliffs. After a short pause to scan the prospect, so as to fix the impression in the memory, we take our departure for Lahinch.

Holiday Haunts on the West Coast of Clare by H.B.H
Courtesy of Clare Local Studies Project

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