History, O'Brien's Tower, O'Brien's Castle | Cliffs of Moher
Cliffs of Moher evening

1782 Cornelius O’Brien is born in Birchfield, Liscannor, Co. Clare. 

1808  Signalling tower built at Hag’s Head by British Army during Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) as a look out post. The earlier promontory fort, known as Mothar or Moher, which gave the Cliffs their name was demolished to provide material for this new signalling tower.  

1816 Cornelius marries Margaret Long and begins renovation of his home in Birchfield, Liscannor. 

1828 Cornelius O’Brien as chairman of the election committee selects Daniel O’Connell as candidate for the famous 1828 Clare Election. 

1832 On December 1st, Cornelius O’Brien is elected MP for Clare. He held his seat in Westminster from 1832 to 1857, losing only once, in 1847. Advancing age and ill health forced his retirement from parliament in March 1857, two months before his death. 

1835 Observation tower is completed, this tower later became known as O’Brien’s tower. 

1836 a bridge is built over the Inagh river joining Lahinch and Liscannor. This bridge would allow easy passage for Victorian visitors making their way to the Cliffs of Moher. It also gave easier access to local farmers to collect sand and seaweed during this prefamine era. 

1845 St. Brigid’s National School is built by Cornelius to provide education to his tenant’s children. He also erected a little Gothic structure over the nearby Reliever’s Well. 

1846 O’Brien became a voluntary member of the Liscannor Famine Relief Committee which provided relief work to impoverished tenants whose crops had failed. 

1854 On October 5th an article in the Clare Journal written by “an English Visitor” heaps praise on Cornelius O’Brien for his developments at the Cliffs of Moher – the tower, pathways, stables, round table etc. and even the provision of a piper to entertain the visitors. 

1857 On 30th of May Cornelius O’Brien dies, he is buried in his family mausoleum located at St. Brigid’s well in Liscannor. 

O'Brien's Tower history
O'Brien's Tower Sunset image

1970 O’Brien’s tower restored. 

1978 a small visitor centre was built to serve the Cliffs of Moher. This centre remained in place until 2005 when works began on the new visitor centre. 

2007 New Visitor Centre opens, same centre remains in place still welcoming and educating people today. 

2008 O’Brien’s tower is renovated again. 

2019 O’Brien’s tower renovated; lime render returned to on the outer walls as it would have looked when originally built.  

Feel the Textures of the Past

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 and status as a Geological wonder.

Cliffs of Moher Liscannor flagstones

Myths & Legends

The Leap of the Foals 

Saint Patrick’s introduction of Christianity to Ireland ended the prominence of Celtic practices. Tuatha De Danann, the pantheon of Celtic deities, was obviously angered by the explosion of Christianity and in protest, they turned themselves into horses. 

They galloped to Kilcornan where they took refuge in the caves for centuries. 

Finally, seven foals emerged from the caves but, having been in the darkness for years, were immediately blinded by the sunlight. They galloped along the edge of the cliffs and eventually plummeted to their death. The same spot where they fell is today known as Aill Na Searrach, or The Cliff of the Foals. 

The Legend of Hag’s Head 

A witch named Mal fell deeply in love with chulainna legendary Irish warriorUnfortunately for the MalcChulainn did not return her love. Mal would not be denied and began chasing chulainn all around Ireland. 

chulainn ended up south of the Cliffs of Moher, on the mouth of the Shannon River. chulainn leaped to the island known as Diarmuid and Grainne’s Rock. 

Mal continued the chase and luckily was carried by a gust of wind as she leaped for the island. chulainn quickly leaped back and Mal, with the false confidence from the last jump, leaped again and fell shortMal crashed into the rocks and her blood reddened the water in the bay giving cause to some that Miltown Malbay was named after her. The rocks, now named Hag’s Head, was said to take the shape of Mal’s profile and remains visible to this day. 

One of Ireland’s most famous sights, the Cliffs of Moher are entirely vertical and the cliff edge is abrupt. On a clear day the views are tremendous, with the Aran Islands etched on the waters of Galway Bay. From the cliff edge you can just hear the booming far below as the waves crash and gnaw at the soft shale and sandstone.

With a due-west exposure, sunset is the best time to visit.

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