Few things in the world are more awe-inspiring than a dramatic sea view. And few dramatic sea views are as stunning as Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher. Running for nine miles of Atlantic coastline in County Clare, and rising to a maximum height of more than 700 feet, the Cliffs of Moher have welcomed more visitors than any other outdoor space in Ireland. (Of course, Dublin’s Guinness Storehouse is the top attraction in the country.) They have appeared in movies, served as muses for song and poetry, and been recognized by UNESCO.

The Cliffs of Moher

My visit is on a rainy July morning. Of course, basically every morning during my more than two weeks here in Ireland has been rainy, so that in itself is nothing new. I arrive early, before 9am, the better to beat the tourist hordes. (More than 1.5 million visitors come here each year, and the weather isn’t a deterrent.) For about twenty minutes, I have the place nearly to myself. From the parking lot and visitors center, paved paths (a steep walk or stairs) head in both directions, and I head south first, then back north to O’Brien’s Tower and a view of the section beyond.

O’Brien’s Tower

Though the rain makes me fairly wet under my umbrella, it does nothing to dampen the spectacular views, the cliffs rising from the seas below, the sound of the waves adding to the ambience. The arrival of the masses corresponds with a heavy fog moving in, and after only about a half hour, my view is down considerably. Once again, I’m glad for my early arrival, though I feel for the tourists for whom the Cliffs of Moher will barely be outlines through the thick cover.

Fog coming in

Ireland is, of course, an island. With that comes some rather beautiful coastal scenery. We’ve already discussed the Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland with its Giant’s Causeway (click here to read more about that), but this position of western Ireland might be even more spectacular. The coastal route here is designated the Wild Atlantic Way, which stretches more than 1500 miles down the Atlantic coast of the island. And while the Cliffs of Moher are the acknowledged highlight, they are far from the only reason to head west.

For most visitors, Galway is an easy place to stay to enjoy this portion of Ireland. A university town of around 100,000, Galway traces its history back to medieval times, which is fairly modern for Irish coastal cities. Eyre Square Center is a modern shopping mall, the largest in the city, and sits where much of the original walls of Galway would have been. In fact, some of them have even been reconstructed inside the mall! It’s a great place to begin exploration of the city.

Reconstructed city walls inside the mall

Founded in 1124, Galway grew into one of the most important trading centers in Ireland, and the largest here in the western province of Connacht. Sitting where the small but fast flowing River Corrib meets the Atlantic, the city grew around a harborfront and canals that allowed ships to bypass the river and head to Lough Corrib. Merchants came to dominate Galway, and a few homes from those trading days survive today, highlighted by the 16th century Lynch’s Castle, a multi-story stone structure featuring intricate carvings on its two street-facing sides.

Lynch’s Castle

Today, Galway is best known for its young population and many festivals, lending an energy to the city that belies its relatively small size. From Lynch’s Castle, visitors can walk both ways along a pedestrian street that changes name twice, from Shop Street to High Street to Quay Street, enjoying a fantastic pub scene and some of the best shopping I encountered in Ireland. Here you’ll find wool from the Aran Islands, silver jewelry, and a ton of local seafood. Every pub seems to offer seafood chowder, and if you enjoy creamy New England-esque fish soups, grab a hearty bowl with some Irish brown bread.

High Street

Of course, County Galway has more than just the city, and a visit to Kylemore Abbey is worth taking. The Abbey was founded in 1920, but the building dates back to 1868, when Kylemore Castle was constructed by Mitchell Henry as a gift for his wife. It is a magnificent structure, part of a huge tract of land that hosts several outbuildings, pastures, and a walled Victorian garden.

Kylemore’s Victorian garden

When Margaret Henry passed away, Mitchell built a gothic style chapel dedicated to her, and a mausoleum to house her body. Both are able to be visited.

But the highlight is the house. Some of it is used by the nuns who call Kylemore home, although a new complex is under construction. But part is a museum to the castle/abbey, both with artifacts and some original furnishings. Signage teaches visitors about the families that have owned Kylemore, about the Benedictine Order, and about life as landlords in Ireland in the 19th century. Most were terrible, but apparently the Henrys were not.

Kylemore Abbey

The entire portion of the Wild Atlantic Way that I traveled was beautiful. It is green as only Ireland can be, traversing hills and valley, passing through the Irish traditional region of Connemara with its prominent Gaelic signage and signature ponies, and taking explorers through small towns and past ruined castles, churches, and tombs. If your travels take you through Western Ireland, go beyond the Cliffs of Moher and see some of this wonderful place!

An old portal tomb is just one of so many highlights of the Wild Atlantic Way

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