The Cliffs of Moher are Ireland’s most visited natural attraction. Rugged cliffs towering over the rough Atlantic, the salty ocean smell in the air, and the calls of the birds that call the cliff home as they glide by. If you’re lucky you might see basking sharks or a pod of dolphins in the waves below, and if the weather is clear, you can see out to the Aran Islands. The Cliffs of Moher are a stunning sight to see, and an absolute must for any first time visitor to Ireland. But, while it’s a gorgeous view, part of the magic in this famous natural attraction are the myths and legends tied around it. Ireland is known for its folklore, so it’s no surprise that several stories surround the area. These are my favourite legends of the Cliffs of Moher.
The Leap of Foals
Prior to St. Patrick bringing Christianity to Ireland, the Celtic deities, the Tuatha de Danan, were revered. When Christianity took over, the Tuatha de Danan fled in anger. Turning themselves into horses, the Tuatha de Danan hid themselves away in a network of caves outside of Kilcornan where they remained for centuries. One day, seven foals left the caves but were so spooked by the sunlight that they galloped away in fear, running along the Cliffside until they eventually plunged over the edge. Today, the spot where they are said to have fallen is called Aill Na Searrach; the Cliff of the Foals.
This same area is also home to Ireland’s famous Aileen wave, the ‘perfect’ surfing wave, which was named after this section of the cliffs.
This story tells of a local fisherman who was out fishing near the base of the cliffs one day when he saw a mermaid. He struck up a conversation with her as she sat by the rocks, but when the chance arose he quickly snatched her magical cloak and left for shore where he returned to his home and hid it. The mermaid needed her magical cloak to return to the sea, and unable to do so she had no choice but to follow him home.
The man promised to return the cloak to her one day, if she would marry him. So she did, and over the years they had two children, a son and a daughter. But the fisherman never returned the cloak. One day, while her husband was out at sea the mermaid managed to find the cloak. She took it and escaped back to her ocean home, never to return to her husband and children again.
The Lost City of Kilstiffen
The legend of the Lost City of Kilstiffen (also sometimes referred to as Cill Stuifin) is my personal favourite. According to the myth, the Kingdom sank in the ocean beneath the cliffs after the king lost the golden key which opened the castle doors. It is said that the city will remain submerged until the key is found and returned, though there are further legends about this.
The lost city if believed to be off the shore of Spanish Point, and some have said they have seen the golden city gleaming when the water conditions are calm. Others say that the city will rise up, temporarily, every seven years. But while it would, no doubt, be a beautiful thing to see, it’s also a cursed sighting as those who see it are destined to die within the next seven years, before the city rises again.
The Hag and Cu Chulainn
The High King of Ulster had a legendary band of warriors called the Red Branch, and one of these warriors was a handsome man named Cu Chulainn. Cu Chulainn attracted the attention of a witch named Mal, who fell madly in love with him. However Cu Chulainn did not return her affection, and so she was left chasing him around the country.
At the south of the Cliffs, Cu Chulainn leaped across to an island in an effort to escape Mal. But Mal jumped too; the wind helping her bridge the gap. Cu Chulainn leaped back and Mal followed, however this time there was no wind to help her and she fell; her body dashed against the rocks that are referred today as the Hag’s Head.
Looking to explore the Cliff of Moher?
You can get there easily with a day trip form Dublin or a day trip from Galway.