Back on the bus for another hour and a half and we arrived on the west coast at the stunning Cliffs of Moher (photo below). Wow, what a site! Definitely in the Top Ten of places we have visited that simply take your breath away. We were given a full two hours here to wander around atop the cliffs and around O"Brien's Castle, a small stone lookout tower and tribute to the former owner of the land who deeded it to the people of Ireland upon his death (photo below). The weather was pleasant with a good breeze blowing and the sun trying to poke out from the clouds allowing for good photo opportunities.
Weather moves in and out of these cliffs rather fast and we were told the last two days of visitation were basically washed out by rain and the views obscured by fog, so we felt very fortunate. Entry to the cliffs is free - this was an important part of O-Brien's will that it be free to all visitors forever - but they have some interactive things that you can pay to see in the visitor's center. We opted to buy tickets since we had a little spare time and checked out a nice historical display about the area plus a cool short 3-D film called "Atlantic Edge" showing the cliffs from literally a bird's-eye view.
After our visit to the Cliffs of Moher, we were scheduled for lunch in the charming little town nearby known as Doolin. One reason we chose Extreme Ireland as our tour guides was the fact that they would allow us to stay overnight in Doolin as an option and pick us up on the same tour the next day for delivery back to Dublin. We made reservations at Hotel Doolin, a new small modern hotel in town with very reasonable rates. Since there were no Hilton properties out this way (and Ashlee was out of points anyway), Hotel Doolin gave us a small-town experience in Ireland as well. Plus, it split up the long bus ride to and from Dublin into two days instead of one very long one. We will have to remember this idea for future travels.
We gobbled our lunch down because we wanted to make a 2 PM ferry ride from the Doolin Pier to see the Cliffs of Moher from the ocean. The hotel was about 2 miles from the pier and we did not think we could make it in time to catch the boat if we walked, so we asked the girl at the desk about a cab. Evidently in Doolin there is only one cab that she called and we were lucky that the driver was nearby. He got us down to the pier and only charged us 5 Euro (no meter in the cab). Money well spent. The pier was busy as two other ferry lines offered tours as well as normal ferry service to folks living on the nearby Aran Islands. The weather was holding steady somewhat but the breeze was picking up a little and storms were forecasted for the evening. The ocean was in good shape as we headed out on a decent-sized boat that was full of sightseers. The cliffs were just as amazing from this vantage point and the stunning 200' Branaunmore sea stack (photo below) rising from the water at the base of the cliffs was even more visible than from above, as well as a cascading waterfall down the face of the cliffs. The sea stack was covered with nesting seabirds and the boat was able to get very close to it. What an amazing site! There is also a sea arch on a far end of the cliffs, but we didn't get close enough to see it real well since it was only an hour cruise. The sea was a bit choppier as we headed back and the weather was definitely turning. Ashlee got a little green around the gills, but held it together until we got back to shore. What a trooper!
We made the walk back to the hotel from the pier as the rain began to fall. We got a little gripey about the situation and then quickly came to the realization that we were walking on the west coast of Ireland in the rain seeing landscapes like the photo below, and that overall it was pretty damn cool. We stopped in a few shops as we made our way back including a wonderful chocolate shop where the owner was very friendly and very generous with her samples! We rested and unpacked somewhat (we were only there for one night) and planned our evening. Our tour driver told us that the best place for food and live music afterwards in Doolin was O'Connor's Pub - a long-standing establishment (since 1832 to be exact). It was about a mile walk back the way we came from the pier, but the rain had not increased in volume and we decided to give it a go. Another great walk worth a little inconvenient rain. The pub was again...large, clean and very friendly. We found a table fairly easily despite the place being very busy. Ashlee continued her tour of Irish whiskeys and we started the night with a classic staple: fish and chips. Delicious. The fish was light and not greasy at all. Hey, it's an ocean town and they know how to do fish. We drank and nibbled away the time awaiting the music to start around 9:30 PM. We were expecting a band to set up but instead three older fellas just commandeered a booth and started plugging away with two fiddles and a flute. We listened a while until our eyes got heavy from the Guinness and the whiskey and we were in need of some sleep after such a great, but long, day on the west coast of Ireland. The rain had let up as we walked back in the pitch-dark street on a cool, quiet Irish eve. This is living, my friends.