The Sea Remains Unchanged and Timeless in its Power
Stand at the Cliffs of Moher’s highest point, looking out to the infinite ocean beyond and imagine this mighty horizon back in the day of majestic sailing galleons, conquering armies and pioneering spirits. There is little left to remind us of this time– but the indomitable force of the sea remains unchanged and timeless in its power.
“It was a wild and stormy day in September, and the light was dying out westward over the great rollers of the Atlantic, when the watchers on the towering Cliffs of Moher saw two sails beyond Aran, and in the dim twilight, fancied they saw others farther out to sea…”
– Extract from the diary of Boetius Clancy
The Spanish Armada set sail in 1588 as part of a planned invasion of England. After an unsuccessful mission, the Spanish fleet commanded by the Duke of Medina Sidonia, sailed North around Scotland and wide around Ireland to return home to Spain – but was decimated by storms en route.
At this time, Boetius Clancy was High Sheriff of Clare – and when, on 16 September 1588, he spotted the distressed fleet of ships out at sea, he become worried for the safety of Ireland. Was it possible that the Spanish could invade Ireland? At this point, Clancy was ordered by the Lord Deputy William Fitzwilliam, to take captive any Spanish sailors found and execute them.
Two more ships carrying 246 and 450 men apiece, sank on September 20th – on the reef by Mutton Island. Only four survivors made it and they were immediately taken prisoner by Clancy. Along with survivors from other ships, they were hanged at a mass execution near Spanish Point and buried in a mass grave known as Tuama na Spaineach.
Attracting tourists is in the blood of the Cliffs of Moher. At the end of the 16th to early 19th centuries, young nobles would embark on grand tours of Europe – and Irish travel journals around the time of 1780 give many descriptions of the beauty of County Clare and the Cliffs of Moher.
One name stands loud and proud in the history of the Cliffs of Moher area – local landowner Cornelius O’Brien. Resident at Birchfield House in Liscannor, O’Brien built O’Brien’s Tower near the highest point of the Cliffs, as a viewing area for 19th century visitors. He also built a wall along the Cliffs, made from Liscannor flagstone –the remnants of which have been restored within the visitor centre grounds.
O’Brien was elected Member of Parliament for Clare in 1837, an office he held for 20 years.
In the 1970’s, the derelict O’Brien’s Tower was restored and in 1978 a small visitor centre was built to serve the Cliffs of Moher. This centre operated until 2005 when work began on the new Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre.
O’Brien also built the bridge over the Inagh River between Lahinch and Liscannor, as well as St Brigid’s National School.
O’Brien once fell ill when in London and asked for water to be sent from St Brigid’s Well. He credited the water with his recovery and built the current well house in thanks.
O’Brien was a member of the Liscannor Famine Relief Committee which provided relief work to impoverished tenants whose crops had failed.
O’Brien channelled his love of building into relief works and constructed new roads in the area.
The Cliffs Surpass in Savage Beauty All Other Points of this Marvellous Side of Clare
Imagine a reach of several miles of walls of black stone rising as high as 600 feet above the ocean, the angles formed like the bastions of a fortress crossed below by sinister cavernas, among which may be seen the white wings of myriads of sea-birds.
Madame Marie-Anne de Bovet Trois Mois en Irlande 1897
Quarrying of the flagstone that is native to the Cliffs was a thriving industry in the 19th and early 20th century. The quarries were very prosperous and as a result, a village was built around the Doonagore mines. The industry, which employed about 500 men, put Liscannor on the map as a busy port shipping stone to London and Liverpool – but with the coming of World War 1, the mines closed. Then in the 1960’s a few mines reopened in Liscannor and continue to produce their famous stone today – beautiful proof of the Cliffs’ rich heritage.