Cliffs of Moher

June 25, 2012 — Have I ever told you that I’ve been to the Cliffs of Insanity? That I saw an upside down waterfall there? That the air was so thick I had to take running starts to get through it at times? I haven’t? Well then, snuggle under your blankets. I’ll be Peter Falk and you be Fred Savage.

When the Dread Pirate Roberts catches up to Vizzini and crew in the 1987 movie The Princess Bride, he does so at the Cliffs of Insanity. That’s the scene where Andre the Giant scales a vertiginous rock face by rope while the rest of the gang hang off him like opossum babies.

The real-life cliffs used in that scene were the Cliffs of Moher, located in County Clare on the western coast of Ireland.

And if you don’t remember the part of the scene with an upside down waterfall and solid air, that’s because it wasn’t in the movie. Those were actually my own personal experiences at the cliffs when I visited a few years back.

The Cliffs of Moher is one of Ireland’s most visited attractions, with like a million people teetering on its edge every year. The dark slate and sandstone rocks rise more than 700 feet from the angry white foam of the Atlantic Ocean to the fabled green grass of Eire, and stretch some five miles of the island’s coast.

Upside-down waterfall in the foreground.
O'Brien's Tower in the background.
Every cliff in the world is dramatic for the same reason: The combination of awesome beauty that can kill you in an awful fashion. But there’s something extremely cinematic about these sheer black rocks in particular, and I’m surprised that among the tens of thousands of birds that call its clefts and sea caves home is not the constant buzz of hundreds of helicopters with state-of-the-art video rigs hanging off them.

You can take a ferry boat to see the cliffs from the bottom, but most people are content with the view from the top. There you’ll find, instead of the ruins from the movie, a large visitor center and the 180-year-old stone structure called O’Brien’s Tower that marks the highest point of the cliffs.

So if you ever visit the cliffs, I can promise you an amazing natural wonder. But I can’t promise you the same experience as ours. On the day that we visited it was crazy windy. Like Jupiter superstorm windy. Like blow Dorothy way past Oz windy. There were points along the cliff walkway where we could barely pull air into our lungs, where we had to stick our heads down and run to make any progress, where we could bend our bodies and almost sit down on the air. And I haven’t had so much fun jumping since I was three.

I realize that last paragraph is purely anecdotal, but I have included some pictorial proof of how jumbo jet this stream was. At one part of the cliffs, water was being funneled straight from the ocean up the hundreds of feet of rock face to geyser over the ledge in a constant stream like an upside-down waterfall. That’s right. An upside-down waterfall. I’ll never scuba dive beneath arctic ice or broad jump across Mare Tranquillitatis, but I have felt the spray of an upside-down waterfall. So there’s that to take the edge off my inevitable end-of-life disappointment.

Of course, the thing I’m downplaying here is that the kind of windy where wearing a jacket just a size and a half too big can turn you into a human kite is exactly the type of weather you don’t want went visiting a dangerous cliff. Except that it was an absolute blast.

Still, even on its most placid, least blowhard days, the Cliffs of Moher are worth being one of the million visitors per year to see…even if you have to piggy on the back of a giant to get there.