Posts Tagged With: Cliffs of Moher

You gotta love puffins.

As I say you gotta love puffins.

Well they are cute and because they breed on offshore islands the difficulty of getting to see them adds to the mystique.   They are truly an aquatic beast, rarely seen on land spending most of their time in the water far out to sea when no breeding.  Ireland though is a great place to get close and personal.

You would think it would be easy.  After all the global population is over 10,000,000 which sounds healthy but in many places it is declining and considered vulnerable. But here are only a few places they can be seen.

I saw them during my visit to Skellig Michael in June (click here). While they breed at the Cliffs of Moher near my home base in Clare, it is hard to get a good viewing point so after four years I still hadn’t seen any.  Skellig Michael though is a different matter. You can’t avoid them at this time of the year.

A small black and white bird, about 30 cm in length, a member of the Auk family which includes guillemots, razorbills and auks themselves. But the puffin fascinates because evolution has dealt it so many attractive features. A very distinctive beak which from the side is broad and triangular and becomes brightly patterned in orange and yellow during the breeding season, orange webbed feet and eye ornaments to match. Their upright stance and waddling gait is endearing.

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Defying gravity

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Their short wings seem to be more designed for moving in water than air and watching them in flight is hilarious. A running take off, madly flapping and you are sure they will crash into the cliff but a quick change of direction at the last minute saves them.  Landing is just as problematic and a crash landing is the rule.

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Taking flight

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Wheeeeee!

During the breeding season they live in burrows or in crevices and caves in the rocks and patrol during the day interacting with neighbours.  I could have watched them for hours.  Once the chicks (pufflings they are called) are hatched they head to the sea and don’t return to land for several years. They start breeding at about 5 years of age and then live til about 30.

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Perfect puffin territory

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Standing guard in front of a burrow

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Or nesting in a cave

I could ramble on about them for ever but there are plenty of sites that can tell you everything if you are interested in learning more so I would direct you there.

For the moment I will just let my pictures do the talking and use them to express my gratitude at having such a close encounter.

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Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Oh no! Not more pictures of the Cliffs of Moher.

With all this fabulous weather in West Clare recently I decided to take the cruise from Doolin to visit the cliffs. I’ve been to the Cliffs of Moher many times but never before have I seen them from the water.  I checked the forecast. Fine for the next couple of days.  Brilliant.  So I booked the late boat for the following day as I dreamed of perfect photos lit by the late evening glow.

The morning dawns and I open the window to the bay at Caherush shrouded in thick fog. I wasn’t worried and smugly congratulated myself at my foresight in booking the late boat. The fog will lift of course by midday and there will be blue skies. My optimism was rewarded as it did lift and by mid afternoon some blue sky appeared. A perfect plan?

So I drive the 40 minutes to Doolin.  Around Lahinch the fog starts to roll back in, getting heavier as I drive across the bog and down the hill to Doolin until by the time I reach the Pier visibility is just a few tens of metres. My heart sunk.  Visions returned of a trip to Jungfrau in the Swiss Alps many years ago.  Up the cog railway in a total wipeout.  I saw nothing of the roof of the world.

We set off nevertheless with, in my case, no real expectation.  So much for all those dramatic photos I was going to take of walls of rock framed by skies of blue.

But for fleeting moments as we approached closer the fog would shift and you would get glimpses of green through the grey.  You got a real sense of the powerful presence of these cliffs though you never saw them in their totality and could only imagine how high they actually were.  The changing  views were tantalising and somehow seductive.  As the boat rocked and shifted, the angles changed and I snapped away but with no real hope of capturing this feeling.

I’ve stopped looking for explanations of the Irish version of the way of the world.  An hour later the fog lifted. But never was the expression ‘go with the flow’ more apposite. Taking advantage of the extended daylight in June I spent the remaining hours exploring the rocky coast north of Doolin, in total thrall of the wonderful rock garden that is the Burren in spring.  I forgot about the the Cliffs.

But when I got home that evening (early next morning I should say, after tunes in Doolin and Ennistymon) and looked at the photos and I was surprised and happy at what I had captured.  I still have a lot to learn about photography but I think the images say just as much or perhaps more than if we were seeing every minute and vivid detail.  Sometimes showing just a little reveals a lot.

Turns out that fog was a lucky break.

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The Cliffs of Moher Cycle Challenge. Never Refuse an Invitation

No I haven’t joined the lycra brigade.  Let me explain.

Never refuse an invitation has been one of the mantras that I have followed since I started living in Ireland and I know I have written before about some of the surprising encounters that have resulted.  This was demonstrated yet again one wet Saturday in early April.

A couple of days previously I had received an email from a friend telling me that the organisers of the Cliffs of Moher Cycle Challenge were looking for musicians to entertain the riders during their lunch stop in the very north of Clare at Ballyvaughan.  Without knowing anything about the event of course I agreed.

The instructions were simple.  “Be at the Hall at 11.30”.  It’s about an hour’s drive from Spanish Point and as I headed north of course, sun turned to rain.

This event, hosted by the Riverside Cycling Club Ennistymon, is in its 6th year. It has built up to become an important part of the Clare cycling calendar with 630 participants this year.  The Burren and the Atlantic coast of Clare hosts some very popular cycle events such as the Tour de Burren, Ring of Clare, SRAC Atlantic Challenge and a ladies only ride Turas na mBan.

It’s not surprising really as the route is rated as one of the finest in Europe.  There were a number of shorter journeys of 40 and 80 km  but The full loop started and finished in Ennistymon and takes in the Cliffs of Moher (of course) and other iconic Clare sites such as Doolin, Fanore and Black Head on the spectacular Burren coast road, Ballyvaughan, Carran, the hairpin bends of Corkscrew Hill and spa-town Lisdoonvarna.

So I arrived in Ballyvaughan with the rain just in time to see the first riders arrive.

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The first riders enter Ballyvaughan

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Not far behind was this colour coordinated group

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Riders make their way through the town

Some kept going, not bothering to take a break but most were diverted to the National School Hall for an inviting spread of sandwiches, fruit and warm tea.

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Decision time.  Most chose lunch.

And who could resist the local smoked salmon on soda bread and the piles of home made sandwiches.  It was also time to exchange stories, meet new friends and check progress.

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Time to show off the new bike.

I joined a small group of musicians belting out jigs and reels with a mighty Kilfenora rhythm. How could it not be so with Anne Rynne (a member of the Kilfenora Ceili Band) and her family leading.  It was so much fun to be part of.  The riders seemed to enjoy it though I am not sure they  realised that despite the youth of  a number of the players , the music was world class.

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It is a surprisingly small country Ireland, and the music world which I am part of has strong links across other activities. I think of it this way.  Traditional music  is like a strong thread in a patchwork quilt that seems to stitch everything together. From farming to football. To illustrate, there in the crowd was my friend Thierry, a keen cyclist and fiddler, who, still clad in riding gear, helmet and gloves,  just couldn’t resist the temptation to borrow my fiddle and play a few tunes. Best of both worlds.

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A great cross section from all over Ireland turned up.  Even the Mayor of Clare was there, wearing not his official garb, but riding colours.  This was a charitable event and a community event.  There were no winners and everyone was a winner.  Oh God.  Did I write that!

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A Mayor from Clare

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Everyone wanted to be in the picture

I headed back home, but not after a little bit of drama leaving my fiddle behind in the hall.  Retrieved it eventually.

I ran into the cyclists again on my way back (figuratively speaking that is) as the sun dramatically re appeared occasionally.  I stopped at the beautiful Carran Church on the roof of the Burren to watch them ride past. You have to admire cyclists’ dedication.  Still plugging away, only 40 km to go, I wonder how many were in the frame of mind to take a look at the stunning scenery or was their mind focused on the formidable Corkscrew Hill just a few kilometers ahead.

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Ruins of Carran Church

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View towards Mt Callan.

I finally ended up back in Ennistymon around 4pm as the last riders were triumphantly ending their 125 kilometer journey.   6 hours and 12 minutes is a long time to be peddling a bicycle.

These events take quite a lot of organising.  Route marking,  food and drink stops, publicity, traffic management and a host of volunteers contribute in all kinds of ways.

A very pleased Committee posed for me outside the Community Hall.

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I hope the cyclists had as good a time as I did. Like I say, never refuse an invitation.

 

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Doughmore Beach, Co Clare. Walls, Donald Trump, drowned forests and a Man o’ War.

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It was Saturday and I was going to stay home and practice fiddle but  when I looked out the window I saw blue sky. And you have to take advantage of every such day with the Winter SADS not far away.  With Donald Trump on my mind after reading some anlysis of the debate (why do I do this to myself?) I thought I would go and have another look at where he wants to build his new Irish wall.

Doughmore is the location of Donald Trumps Doonbeg Golf resort, It is about tem minutes drive south of my little cottage near Quilty. So you see it’s pretty much my backyard.  You follow the signs with the blue squiggly line because the Wild Atlantic Way actually diverts to the beach.

Trump bought the impressive resort and golf course at a knockdown price of $12 million when the then owners were in difficulty.  An astute purchase?  Of course.

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Doonbeg Resort.  Golf course tucked behind the dunes

 

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Doonbeg resort complex

 

For those who are not aware, he now wants to tip 200,000 tonnes of rock along nearly 3 km of the beach (that’s a public beach mind you) to build a massive wall up to 4.5m high to stop erosion of the dunes to protect his golf links.   A little bit of science.  Erosion of dunes during a storm surge is a natural event. The event that scared Mr Trump happened in February 2014 and the dunes were cut back around 10m. This was a once in a lifetime happening that caused millions of euros of damage all along the Clare, Kerry and Cork coasts. But hey, erosion of dunes is essential for the replenishment of the sand to the beach. It is temporary as the sand returns to the dunes through wind. That’s how the dunes got there in the first place.  The Dutch understand this and monitor the normal movement of dunes as a natural barrier to inundation of the lowlands. A rock wall will destroy this continuum. Trump proposes to spend millions to save a couple of greens. Well stiff I say. Spend the euros on new greens and fairways. Leave the beach alone.

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Doughmore Beach.  Eroded sand dunes.  Note rapid partial regeneration.

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Doughmore Beach.  200,000 tonnes of rock planned to be tipped against these dunes.

 

So my visit this day is to see what’s at stake. And see it before it disappeared under a pile of rock.

Oh, and did I say that these dunes are classified as a Special Area of Conservation by the EU.

I was struck immediately by the relatively unspoilt nature of the beach. At the southern end where the resort complex is located is a rock platform, unusual because the shales are steeply dipping unlike most of the Clare coast where the strata is flat lying.  From here a beautiful sandy beach stretches around the bay for about 3 km. In the bright sunshine it is stunning.  The resort stands proud of course but the golf links is tucked away out of sight.  The impression is of pristine wilderness.   I found plenty of reasons to leave the beach as it is.

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Doughmore Beach.  Wide sandy beach at low tide.

 

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Doughmore Beach.  View towards the north.

 

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Doughmore Beach.  Another view.

 

It is very wide and predominantly sandy with only a narrow zone of boulders at the base of the dunes as distinct from many beaches in the part of the world which are boulder rich. This day there were many using the beach but paradoxically it seemed empty.  Most were just Irish families not people from the resort. I  spoke to quite a few. There was a family walking their Labrador, which, by the way, was having the time of his life. Another family, home from Australia, building a sand castle, people walking, jogging and just sitting and staring towards the Cliffs of Moher, visible as clear as a bell in the distance.

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Doughmore Beach.  Enjoy.

 

There was plenty of bird life. I saw a pair of Oyster Catchers going about their business along the shoreline, there was a Grey Heron and a flock of Mute Swans, really a surprise to see them on the ocean. Could have watched them for hours. A bit of Tchaikovsky would have been perfect.  Perfect synchronicity from one pair as they performed a pas de duex for me.

 

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Doughmore Beach.  A pair of Oyster Catchers.  Looking towards Liscannor and the Cliffs of Moher.

 

 

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Doughmore Beach.  A Grey Heron with the Cliffs in the distance.

 

 

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Doughmore Beach.  Part of a flock of Mute Swans.

 

Some kind folk pointed out to me a Portuguese Man o’ War washed up on the beach. Alive mind you.  A very rare occurrence as they are usually found in warm water in open ocean. A few have been spotted recently along the west coast of Ireland. So there is a bit of an alert out for them. They are related to the famous Australian blue bottle which though not as deadly as the Man o War, stings upwards of 10,000 people on Australian beaches every year. They are a beautiful and fascinating creature. Not actually a jellyfish, they are a colony made up of a number of different specialised individual animals (called zooids or polyps). They are attached to each other and to a bladder which is inflatable. The bladder, which is filled with gas, has intricate patterns etched in pink and the polyps and tentacle are shades of purple and cobalt blue. They have extremely long and venomous tentacles which is for gathering food and defending itself. They are at the mercy of the ocean currents and travel in schools of over 1,000. So keep a lookout. And don’t touch.

I noticed a small patch of peat exposed on the beach. This part of the beach is littered with old timber and tree stumps and roots. Part of an ancient drowned forest such as was revealed near Spiddal after the February 2014 storms. I’ve seen this before also at Caherush, though that one is now covered over again. Here there is very little of the peat exposed and it is is very narrow (less than a foot thick) and is clearly eroding fast.  It sits on a bed of quite soft mudstone which was the original forest soil layer. The stumps with roots attached many in situ and upright with the roots extending into the substrata. Chances are this represents an old forest from around 4-5,000 years ago, most likely inhabited. Most of the stumps appear to have met with a natural end, but I did notice one which had a definite saw cut – evidence of timber harvesting? This is amazing; they had saws back then? I can think of no other explanation.  This is a remarkable and unheralded window into the past.  Unfortunately it won’t be around long I’m guessing.  Not Trump’s fault this one, just the forces of nature.

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Doughmore Beach.  Part of submerged forest and remains of peat layer.  Grey rock underneath the peat is original soil layer of the forest. 

 

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Large stump, showing roots.

 

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Doughmore Beach.  Ancient tree stump and roots.  Peat all washed away. 

 

I have to go back to that accursed wall. This is not his first attempt. Trump began to dump boulders along the beach soon after purchasing it, without any permits, before Clare County Council intervened and forced him to stop the work. Then he came up with a relatively benign solution which had the support of environmental groups. No this was too namby-pamby. He changed his mind, sacked the very experienced consultant and hired another who would support his now much more drastic proposal. It is currently before Council. Trump firstly applied to bypass the council and declare it a project of national importance (the nerve!). This failed and Clare Council to its credit has initially rejected the application and is seeking more information on 51 questions. This will take many months. Trump’s bullying tactics have so far not helped. We will watch with interest.

I urge everyone who reads this to go visit Doughmore and see for themselves. If you live overseas and intend to visit Ireland, it is a short drive from the Cliffs of Moher and is on the way to the Kilkee cliffs and Loop Head anyway (which should be on your list of must-see places). Hopefully it will all still be there when you come.

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Intricate flow patterns of sea grass on an exposed rock platform

 

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Irish Sessions and the Hungarian Connection

As those who follow my blog, or keep up with me on Facebook, would know I go out to listen to or play Irish music every night.  I have missed a couple of nights in the past 18 months.  To some that might sound dull and one dimensional but so be it.  I have my regulars and favourite haunts and musicians I just love playing with and I try and get there every week.  Why, you ask?  Surely it would just be the same and get boring.  Well I’m here to tell you that that is what is so wonderful about sessions in Ireland.  Same musicians, same venue yes but totally different night each time.  The tunes are never the same, the session dynamics are different with different visiting musicians, and the  ambience is different with a different crowd.

An example.  Last night at the Cornerstone in Lahinch. The session was led by Yvonne Casey and Brid O’Gorman two local Clare musicians.  That is normally enough for me as I love the combination of fiddle and flute.  Eoin O’Neill on bouzouki was missing so immediately it was different.  Tonight there was no backing the tunes had to stand on their own.  On a personal note these kinds of sessions bring out the best in my playing.  There’s nowhere to hide. No offence meant Eoin!.  Brid’s sister (fiddle) and her son (concertina) joined us for a while and that was great.  Unfortunately another regular Severin had jammed her fingers and couldn’t play.  The boy sung a lovely song about a set of leaky bagpipes which brought the house down.  I sung a few songs to an attentive and appreciative audience. It was just a lovely session and normally that would have been enough. But you just never know what is around the corner in an Irish pub.

Sitting across from us and riveted all night were two couples.  After initially refusing an invitation from Yvonne to sing, during a pause in the proceedings, two of them suddenly burst into song in a strangely familiar language.  The man had a gorgeous trained baritone voice and the song was full of life and humour even though we didn’t understand a word,   It was fantastic.

We got chatting. It was in Hungarian.

I should say here that I am of Hungarian descent!  Judit and Gyula have been living in Dublin for seven years and were taking Hungarian friends Aliz and Tamas on a quick visit to the Cliffs of Moher.   We got on like a house on fire.  It was like meeting family.  Maybe we were.  Long distant cousins, who knows?  I’m sure I will meet them again.

Anyway that’s what Irish music does.  I see it all the time.  It brings the most unlikely people together.

Can’t wait for tomorrow night.

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Categories: Real Ireland, Sessions, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Cliff Walk. Cliffs of Moher

On two separate days in March and April 2015 I completed the Moher Cliff Walk. There and back was too much for one day so I did the southern half (Liscannor to the Visitor’s Centre and back) (12km) on 22nd March and the northern half  one way from the Visitor’s Centre to Doolin (8km) on 16th April. On both days we were blessed with glorious sunshine. Considering how many people visit the Cliffs – it was surprisingly quiet and you could go for kilometres without seeing anyone once you were away from the Visitors Centre.

They scare a lot of people away I think with descriptions on their web site such as “a remote, challenging and demanding trail with no barriers, handrails or seaward fencing”; “exposed cliff top path, steep ascents and descents and narrow and/or steep flagstone steps” and “The trail is suitable only for experienced walkers with a reasonable fitness level”

Hell. It really wasn’t that bad as I managed it easily, though I was totally exhausted at the end of both days.

There is not really much to say as it has to be experienced. It is breathtaking. If you can’t get there soon I have taken some photos to whet the appetite.

By the way if you walk it you should hang around until the sun sets. The cliffs change colour from the dull grey/purple of daytime to fiery reds and oranges to match the sky.

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Cliffs of Moher

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How many ways can you photograph the Eiffel Tower and make it look interesting or original? This is the problem I had the other day at the Cliffs of Moher. I had resisted going because I took lots of photos last time and wanted to avoid the crowds, but the day was fine with patches of sunshine so I headed out there one afternoon about 3.00, It was a memorable afternoon. I walked past O’Briens tower and around the cliffs towards Doolin getting perspectives that were unfamiliar.

The Cliffs are a special place.  I love the way you can walk out unrestricted onto overhanging rock platforms and stare down at the swirling ocean hundreds of feet below. Back home we would have railing fences preventing you getting near the cliff edge but here there is just an incomprehensible pictogram which seems more concerned with the welfare of the grass and the birds and the phone number of a suicide help line. I love the lush green blanket that drapes over the cliff edge sometimes going half way down the slope until the alternating bands of sandstone and shale eventually assert their dominance, And as at Loop Head sea birds nesting precariously on tiny rocky ledges where along with a dozen others they seem to have reached a harmonious arrangement. 

The light was iffy and didn’t help the photography but I stayed until 8pm. At this time I was pretty much on my own. The evening chill meant the tourists were back in their B&Bs though it would be still light until 10.30. I should have stayed but unfortunately I had a session to go to!

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