Though much of what I’d seen in Ireland on this trip could easily have graced a postcard, Doolin, at least in my opinion, was the most idyllic up to this point. The village center contained a tight grouping of colorful buildings, Doonagore Castle (really a round tower) was visible in the distance, and the Cliffs of Moher were just a stone’s throw away. There were musicians playing Celtic music and jugglers on the street, though I later found out they were likely Celtic-music enthusiasts from Germany (it’s a thing).
The hostel where I was staying could only be described as Hobbit-esque – surrounded by green grass, it was a low building made of stone and sat next to a rock bridge, a stream flowing underneath. I arrived with a handwritten note that contained the name of the proprietor. He’d dated the wife of a boss of mine back home years earlier.
“Hi, I hear you know Johanna Maienfeld!*” I said excitedly.
“Er, yes… I… do. How did…?” Surprised by the question, he searched for a response.
“Her husband sent me!”
I’m not sure how I would react if a young man from another country approached me, unannounced, at my place of business and made the same statement. After explaining a bit more, I caught him up on how Johanna was doing and how I’d come to be there. It was good to talk to someone connected to home after the few days of solitude in Galway, the remoteness in Roscommon, and the money scare in Dublin.
After settling in, I rented a bike to make my way to the Cliffs of Moher. With their sheer rock faces rising upwards of 700 feet from the ocean, they stood in for the wideshots of the Cliffs of Insanity in The Princess Bride and the Horcrux Cave in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince films.
I started my journey and was making good time. As I passed a number of homes being built with breathtaking ocean views, my legs began to burn and my breathing became labored. Modern technology tells me that in order to get to The Cliffs from the village of Doolin it’s an almost 530ft gain in elevation. I did not have modern technology with me Ireland in 1999, just a bike, a camera, and the clothes on my back. It should be noted that my original plan was to bike across the country upon my arrival. The book I had purchased to use as a guide had wildly inaccurate distances – perhaps from poorly calculated conversions from metric measurements. If this short journey was any indication, I’m glad I came to my senses before I departed from Maine.
I managed not to get lost, but the trek took far longer than anticipated. Arriving at the Cliffs one immediately understands the draw. One thing that stood out about the cliffs were the distinct lack of guard rails, particularly with the strong winds that define the area. Gulls attempting would appear to be stuck in the same spot for long periods, struggling against the rushes of air. Though signs were scattered around the attraction, it’s easy to picture someone being swept away. But the lack of railings separated this place from similar destinations in overly-safe America.
Other than a small castle-like structure and a few walkways, the cliffs themselves were as they’d been for centuries. Turn around, however, and you’ll see a large parking lot, gift shops and restrooms with a uniquely bunker-like look, and buses full of garishly dressed tourists. It’s not lost on me that I too was a tourist, but these were TOURISTS. I must be in hundreds of photos from the hour or two I was there. I’ve long hoped to see a random picture of me in snapshots from their family trip in August ’99.
Heading back, I quickly discovered descending 530ft on a bike was an altogether different experience from ascending 530ft.
Movie referenced: Into the West