Cliffs of Moher. It's years since we've been - not since the new interpretive centre was built. There was such a fuss about that centre built at the height of the 'we've got more money than sense' years. It cost 31 million euro to build. Imagine. 31 million. I used to like the Cliffs as they were and always thought this was a dreadful waste of money. Interpretive centres to show you what you should be looking at in reality - how ridiculous, how made for a money market of tourists who don't really care but arrive on a bus from America or wherever to tick off another place on the itinerary. I especially thought the cost of this project outrageous, and the charges Clare County Council were initially charging outrageous. Many agreed. The papers were full of it. Clare CC got a huge amount of stick and coach drivers parked outside on the road to avoid the over-the-top costs.
Since then the price of parking and entry has been reduced and I finally went along to see was it worth it. My initial thought was that no, it wasn't, but now I'm not so sure. I was reading about it on the Construct Ireland website and this is how it describes the way the Cliffs used to be:
'It was a couple of tumbledown stone stable buildings with ad hoc Portakabins added on for toilets. There was a septic tank that wasn’t functioning and was spewing out all over the place and it was surrounded by surface carpark. Basically, when you came up from Liscannor, it was scarring the landscape.” More importantly, the site itself had become hazardous. Eroded walkways, subsidence and inadequate safety measures had made it very difficult to police effectively. “What has been going on over recent years was absolutely crazy.” Says project leader Ger Dollard of Clare County Council. “It was frightening what was happening.”'
I suppose I was nostalgic for my first visits to the cliffs aeons ago when the place was littered with bad buskers and mad people sat on the very edge of the cliffs, legs dangling so that even to look at them from the corner of my eye gave me vertigo. We ourselves climbed onto the grass high up on the cliffs in spring sunshine and looked across the bay to the Twelve Bens in Connemara, peering down at the puffins and kittiwakes below. I didn't think about where the toilet waste was going, although I did think about the dangers for the perching people and how amazing it was that they were left to do this. But somehow I liked that. The lack of organisation, the being left to take your own risks if you wanted to.
So now we have a building in the hillside with many 'eco' features: 'Solar panels take care of most of the hot water needs. A geothermal system looks after both heating and cooling. An onsite wastewater treatment plant facilitates large-scale grey water recycling while a high-spec building management system allows energy requirements to be closely monitored and managed'.
I suppose the question as always is how much should you provide at these places? I suppose for the tourist money you have to have the shops - so much merchandise on sale at the Cliffs now - and you have to have the restaurant, the exhibition space - showing huge photos of the cliffs from all aspects in the domed exhibition space. I would have been dismissive of this before - better to have the real experience and all that - but it was brilliant for my dad whose eyesight is very poor, and for my mum who has a bad knee and can't walk far at the moment.
There is certainly more walkway to walk up and down, and they've put Lisannor flags on their sides to keep people off the edge. It looks ok. I didn't go anywhere near the top (elderly parents etc) so can't judge that bit. On a blustery day in April there were a good few people there. The upstairs cafe had great views. Nice toilets, presumably not spewing into the beautiful ocean.
So do I support what they've done? I still think 31 million euro is a ridiculous amount of money to spend when, to be honest, people would go there anyway and probably be happy with a lot less. Don't know what it cost to get in though. I'd read the website before we went so knew we could park close to the buildings rather than on the other side of the road. You stop at the barrier, press the intercom button, and say 'I have a car with two disabled passengers.' Up goes the barrier. We weren't asked for money at any point.