Hiking Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher

by Patrick O’Neill

Pat O’Neill, Johnny, and Brandon at Galway Bay.

The three of us were becoming increasingly nervous, and the rain was not helping. Little clumps of mud tumbled off the cliffs inches from my all-black Chuck Taylors—Johnny and Brandon were trudging along the edge in heavy, leather construction style boots. We had been hiking the coastline for the past week when we decided to board a bus in Galway, a few hours back, and arrived with an unreal view high above the Atlantic Ocean and the greenest hills imaginable everywhere else; which is also how we arrived in this predicament. This was the Cliffs of Moher. Except, we had long since hopped the fence and left the security of the tourist designated path, and now found ourselves clinging to wet grass and softly stepping along the muddy edge of a cliff. We were loving every second of this adventure, and saw no other alternative if we were truly going to experience Ireland’s magnificent cliffs.

My friends’ boots were filling with rain, making them too heavy and cumbersome for proper traction, as Johnny let out a—“lost my balance and I’m sliding to the edge”—holler. Brandon looked like a waiting linebacker with his back to the fall, staring right at our sliding friend. Johnny stopped himself only after lying flat on his back, catching much of the mud with both arms and then digging in the boot heels with everything to keep him from going over. I could see the rising doubt and declining confidence that we were suddenly sharing. Johnny got up with care in each individual step. I lent him an out-stretched hand over the same narrow slope that nearly sent him into the sea below. With my Chuck Taylors dug in and my knees bent I hoisted Johnny quickly, fearing his boots would give again, and Brandon was already on all fours himself at another angle. Sure the rain may have been obscuring our view slightly, but to hear the cawing from the circling gulls below, to watch the water rushing off the cliff face and to see beautiful green hills sunk into a fog ahead was all we really needed. So we pushed on wearily along the majestic Cliffs.

We came upon a rocky point, like large slabs sticking out of the wall. I was confident that I would be able to balance and jump from one rock ledge to the next, but then I did have on my all-black chucks; which of course are equipped with softer soles, and my friends did not. There was a safer route scaling the length of a leaning cow fence, luckily it wasn’t electric, and Johnny decided it was better to pull ourselves along the fence than risk it on the rocks. I glanced back at the rocks thinking it would have been more fun than holding onto a farmer’s fence, though. Ahead in a backdrop of clouds, a stone tower was standing tall in a glimpse of sunshine, our cool new objective was now in sight. Nothing needed to be said—we saw the tower and that was that—we were going. My clothes were wet and sticking to my skin. I looked up and a drop struck my eye. The day was growing somewhat tiring—we had only decided to break from the path after a few pieces of toast paired with Guinness for breakfast—yet, we felt determined. The hours do not linger long on the edge, and it was as if we our only option was to keep heading in the same direction. Ireland, as we discovered the previous week offered much to be explored, but today’s journey was more than that. If we had come to see the cliffs from behind a fence than we could have just looked at any postcard. The three of us walked in a close-file line with our arms out for balance. The constant urge to lean over and watch tiny waves crashing on the boulders was too great to resist, so we would all halt to tighten the bottom of our stomachs frequently as if we did not remember how far we might fall or something. Brandon pointed to a triangle formation jutting out, a minuscule peninsula which was only big enough to fit one pair of shoes at one time. It easily could have been passed up. I squatted and stuck out the black rubber cap of my Chuck Taylors, as if to test it, and when it did not collapse I took the second step. To take another step would have been to fly, because there was nothing to either side nor in front of my feet. Raindrops were landing on my head and my shoulders, and then some just passed by my face and had a long fall before they would hit anything. It was a wonderful excuse to rest for a minute.

moher cliffs
Patrick experiencing the Cliffs of Moher.

The Tower was built of huge stones that were probably placed there hundreds of years ago, perhaps as a beacon from the sea. It had no roof or at least no longer had a roof, and outside beyond the tower was a bay where the cliffs began to fall gradually into the sea. We had reached the end it seemed. The sky was clearing of clouds and the sun was attempting to shine, brightening the stretch of green we would inevitably be covering once more. Since we were aware of the mud and the distance back, we could not stay long and it would be night soon. Exhausted, I began joking that we should agree to shout something heroic and funny to be remembered by, while plummeting hundreds of meters into the sea. There was a great length to be covered before we reached the safety of the fence.

It was late and we needed some sleep, but we never did get back on that bus, because we had no destination and rather preferred to wander the roads through the local town. We each had a ruck with supplies and made it another ten miles at least, when we came upon a pier with a line of boats laid upside down on the shore. The sign hanging from a chain across the pier read, “closed for the season.” Rain had begun to fall once more, and it was quite dark. Brandon set to pitching his one-man tent, while Johnny and I stood on the massive shore rocks gazing at the faded silhouette of the cliffs and admired our days’ work. I tied off a poncho between two rocks and slipped into the crevice, my bed for the night. My skin was not at all dry, my legs were aching, my feet tired, though, not sore, and I was content to fall asleep. The next morning, I crawled from a damp sleeping bag and pulled on my chucks. The sun was rising through the clouds and rain across the bay, above the Cliffs of Moher. And I sat looking out, breathing in the first breath of sea air and spray, but thought also of the places my chucks had taken me on this trip. With the three rucksacks strapped on our backs, we hiked beside the ocean. I smiled and no longer cared if it rained. Monochrome black chucks just feel better in rainy weather.

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