History of Cliffs of Moher: Formation, Irish Legends and Myths

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The Cliffs of Moher, stretching 14 km and rising 200 m high, aren’t just huge walls; they’re ancient storytellers with tales dating back 320 million years.

These cliffs were formed millions of years ago when rivers carried sand, mud, and silt into an ancient sea, forming layers of rock that make up the cliffs today.

Over centuries, these sediments turned into stone, creating a geological masterpiece.

In this article, you will learn everything about the Cliffs of Moher’s History, timeline, and associated legends, like the mermaid of Moher and the witch’s love, etc.

Historical Timeline: History of the Cliffs of Moher

300-350 million years ago: The Cliffs of Moher were formed during this period when a river deposited sand, silt, and clay into an ancient marine basin. 

Around 1808: Cliffs of Moher took their name from an old promontory fort called Mothar or Moher, which once stood on Hag’s Head. 

1835: O’Brien’s Tower was built by Sir Cornelius O’Brien, a round stone tower near the midpoint of the cliffs.

1987: The Cliffs of Moher appear in films such as The Princess Bride (1987), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009), and Leap Year (2010). 

1990s: Clare County Council initiates development plans for the cliffs to enable visitors to experience them without significant intrusive man-made amenities.

2007: The Cliffs of Moher Visitor Center officially opens. 

The €32 million facility is environmentally sensitive, incorporating renewable energy systems like geothermal heating and cooling, solar panels, and greywater recycling.

2011: The Cliffs of Moher become part of the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark, recognized by UNESCO.

2016: The visitor experience records 1,427,000 visits, up 14% from 2015. The Cliffs of Moher Coastal Walk, an 18 km route from Hag’s Head to Doolin, is officially established.

Today: With 1.5 million annual visitors, Cliffs of Moher is one of Ireland’s most popular attractions. 

Detailed Cliffs of Moher History

Over 320 million years ago, during the Carboniferous Period, the rocks forming the

Cliffs of Moher began to take shape.

It was the time when the area was located close to the equator, about 6,000 km from its current position.

According to the researchers, the formation of the cliffs started when ancient rivers carried mud, silt, and sand into the sea, forming layers.

Over time, these deposited sediments built up and created a delta similar to the modern Mississippi delta.

As these sediments were buried deeper and turned into rock, they traveled slowly, about 2cm per year, on a giant tectonic plate in the Earth’s crust.

The rocks also collided with another tectonic plate, creating deep vertical fractures. These fractures now give the cliffs their vertical appearance.


When you look at the Cliffs of Moher, you will see some light and sandstone, forming narrow ledges, and others dark, mainly soft siltstone and shale, dominating the cliffs.

Evidence of this ancient marine life, like ammonoids and crinoids, can also be found in some shales.
Constantly facing powerful waves, the Cliffs of Moher endure erosion; the sea stack below O’Brien’s Tower results from thousands of years of coastal erosion.

Such erosion will likely speed up due to global warming, causing occasional rockfalls.

So, make sure to stick to the marked path when visiting the Cliffs of Moher.

Standing as a testament to nature’s creativity with a unique formation history, these cliffs are a world-class visitor attraction and home to thousands of birds today.

They are also crucial to the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark.

Do you know?

Some scenes from the world-renowned Harry Porter series were also shot at the Cliffs of Moher. Know more about these locations and make sure to visit them.


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Popular Irish Legends about the History of Cliffs of Moher

Irish Legends about the History of Cliffs of Moher
Image: Indiatimes.com

The Cliffs of Moher are one of the most popular tourist attractions to visit in Ireland, and unsurprisingly, the place also has various legends and myths associated with it.

1. The Witch’s Unrequited Love

Once upon a time, a witch named Mal had a big crush on a brave warrior named Cú Chulainn. But he didn’t feel the same way.

Even though he didn’t love her back, Mal was determined to win his heart.

She chased him all across Ireland, reaching the magical Cliffs of Moher.

Cú Chulainn ran and jumped onto an island called Diarmuid and Grainne’s Rock. Mal also tried to follow him with the help of a friendly gust of wind.

Cú Chulainn jumped back to the mainland, but poor Mal fell short. She crashed into the rocks below, and her blood colored the bay. That’s how Malbay got its name!

Now, if you go to the Cliffs of Moher and look at the rocks called Hag’s Head, they say you can still see the shape of Mal’s face.

It’s like the rocks are telling us the story of Mal and Cú Chulainn, a story that’s been an integral part of Irish legends.

2. The Leap of Foals

Leap of Foals
Image: Facebook.com/mohercliffs

In ancient times, as Saint Patrick introduced Christianity to Ireland, the once mighty Celtic pantheon known as the Tuatha de Danann faced a decline in their influence.

Upset by the rise of the new faith, these deities transformed themselves into horses as an act of protest and ran away to a place called Kilcornan.

There, they hid in caves for a long time, and after spending centuries in the dark, seven little foals finally came out of the caves.

But they had been in the darkness for so long that when they saw the bright sunlight, they got scared and ran along the edge of the cliffs and accidentally fell off.

Today, the place where this happened is called Aill Na Searrach, or the Cliff of the Foals. And that’s how a magical cliff got its name!

3. The Mermaid of Moher

Mermaid of Moher in
Image: Tripadvisor.co.uk

Once upon a time, near the Cliffs of Moher, there lived a fisherman who saw a real-life mermaid while fishing.

Instead of being scared, he started chatting with her. But one day, the man got a clever idea.

He noticed a magical cloak near a rock – a cloak that the mermaid needed to go back to her home in the sea.

Greedy for its powers, the man quickly grabbed the cloak and hid it in his house.

Desperate to return to the sea, the mermaid followed the man to his house, but she couldn’t find her precious cloak anywhere.

With few choices, the mermaid agreed to marry the man, and they soon became

parents to a son and daughter. But deep down, the mermaid never forgot her lost magic cloak.

Years passed, and one day, when the man was out fishing, the crafty mermaid finally found her hidden cloak.

Without a second thought, she put it on and disappeared into the sea, leaving her family behind. The man and their kids never saw her again.

The mermaid left, but her story became integral to the Irish legends surrounding the cliffs.

4. Lost City of Kilstiffen

Lost City of Kilstiffen
Image: Facebook.com/mohercliffs

Once upon a time, there was a city known by many names – Cill Stuifin, Kilstpheen, Kilstuitheen, Cill Stuithin, and Cill Stuifin.

This city was special, with a golden key that opened its castle doors.

One unfortunate day, the chieftain lost this precious golden key. Without it, the city sank beneath the water, disappearing from sight. 

According to the legends, the city will stay underwater until the golden key is found and returned.

Some believe the key lies under an ogam-inscribed gravestone on Slieve Callan, east of Milltown Malbay. Others claim it’s in a lake on top of a mountain.

People have different stories; some also say they’ve seen the city shining beneath the water, while others believe it rises to the surface every seven years.

But here’s the catch: It is believed that if someone witnesses the city above water, that person will not live to see its next rise in seven years.

It’s one of the most mysterious Irish legends, popularly known as the “Lost City of

Kilstiffen,” which is tied to Lisacannor Bay on the west coast of the cliffs.

5. The Corpse-Eating Eel

Mermaid of Moher
Image: Facebook.com/mohercliffs

Once upon a time in Kilmacreehy, near the towering Cliffs of Moher, there was a brave saint named Macreehy.

Legend has it that a giant eel slithered into the cemetery to eat the corpses!

Saint Macreehy couldn’t let his departed friends become eel snacks. So, he faced the eel and defeated it.

Now, two special stones on the cliffs, visible when the tide is low, are said to be the bed of the brave saint.

Also, earlier, people carved the eel’s image on a stone in Kilmacreehy. But, the carving faded over the years, leaving behind a story of a saint and a strange eel.

FAQs about Cliffs of Moher History

What caused the Cliffs of Moher?

The Cliffs of Moher were formed over 320 million years ago, during the Carboniferous Period. Ancient rivers carried sand, mud, and silt into an ancient sea, shaping layers of rock that make up the cliffs today.

Over time, these sediments turned into stone, creating the impressive geological formations we see today.

What is the myth of the Cliffs of Moher?

There are many myths and legends about the Cliffs of Moher.

One notable legend is “The Witch’s Unrequited Love,” where a witch named Mal falls in love with a warrior named Cú Chulainn, leading to a tragic end.

Another legend, “The Corpse-Eating Eel,” tells of Saint Macreehy defeating a giant eel in Kilmacreehy near the cliffs, leaving behind special stones and a faded carving.

What is the history of the Moher?

The history of the Cliffs of Moher spans millions of years.

Over time, these cliffs witnessed the formation of rock layers and the construction of O’Brien’s Tower in 1835. 

They became a popular filming location for movies like The Princess Bride and Harry Potter.

What is the legend of the Hags Head?

The Witch’s Unrequited Love” is a legend associated with the Cliffs of Moher, featuring the character Hag’s Head, where the witch Mal is said to have left her mark.

The rocks are believed to resemble her face, telling the story of her unrequited love for a warrior named Cú Chulainn.

The tale involves chases, leaps, and a tragic end, leaving its mark on the landscape.

What is another name for the Cliffs of Moher? Cliffs of Coher

Another name for the Cliffs of Moher is “Cliffs of Coher.”

Featured image : Stock photos by Vecteezy

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