On Sunday my roommates and I woke up early and headed down to the travel agency in the Galway city center, Eyre Square. The only sounds were our footsteps on the slippery cobblestone streets, making it eerily quiet in a town that is normally so vibrant and busy. We roamed up and down a few different unnamed side streets before ending up at a small travel agency that also happened to be one of the only doors with a light on. We purchased a round trip pass to the Cliffs of Moher with a few additional stops and by ten o’clock we were on our way. As the large coach bus navigated its way through the narrow streets of Galway and out into the expansive countryside, skinny European style houses gave way to small houses with thatched roofs, large yards and dividing drywalls.
Along the way we made two stops before we actually reached the cliffs. About an hour outside of Galway we pulled over in front of a small castle. In my short time in Ireland I have learned that there is an abundance of castles here – even if some of them only consist of a crumbling wall or an eroding tower. This castle, however, was much larger and more complete than others. Even still, it only took us ten minutes to walk around the outside, peer into the courtyard and take a few group pictures. But then we were back on the bus.
Our second stop was at the Aillwee Cave in County Clare. We had to sprint from the bus to the tiny Visitors Center to avoid raindrops pelting our faces and wind ripping at our jackets. Once in the small Visitors Center, we were quickly ushered into a damp, dark hallway of rock that brought us deeper and deeper into the side of the hill. The few lights that guided the pathway cast strange figures on the walls of the cave as we passed by. Our tour guide pointed out various stalactites, stalagmites and streams. It was fascinating to see the different formations, however I was relieved when we surfaced again in a space where I could move my arms about without hitting stone.
When we got on the bus again we were dismayed to see the drizzling had turned to heavy rain and the wind pound the sides of the bus. But as we wound our way up the hill towards the cliffs, the rain died down a bit and the clouds cleared so that, even though it was still quite cold and the wind was still pretty intense, at least we could see what we came for. And the cliffs are breathtaking. The dominant thought racing through my brain was that I was standing inside of a postcard, trapped alongside a distant place that you think about but never actually believe you will see.
Stone walls snake along the edge with slightly comical, slightly terrifying signs warning about the dangers of being sucked off the edge. Wind slams into the side of the cliffs, strikes upward and then slashes across the grassy top. Ocean spray whips into foam bubbles that circle around tourists like a tornado of tiny snowbirds. And one lone stone tower waits forlornly, overseeing the entire event. As I stumbled up to the tower, I had to use every muscle in my body to keep my momentum moving forward against the domineering wind. We slipped and tumbled our way along the edge for as long as the wall lasted, pausing briefly for photos before being pushed back by force. By the time we made it back to the bus, my hair was sticking straight up and my pants were splattered with mud but I had a huge grin on my face.
The day ended with a late lunch of Irish stew in a pub in Doolin and a very quiet ride back into Galway. By this time the sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Perhaps it would have been more pleasant to see the cliffs on a more temperate day, but somehow I don’t think they would have been quite as impressive or memorable that way.