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As Gaeilge
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Travels in County Clare 1534 - 1911
(extracts from The Strangers Gaze, edited by Brían Ó Dálaigh)

Alexander More, Diary of a Naturalist, 1854

Alexander Goodman More, botanist and ornithologist, had an unrivalled knowledge of the fauna and flora of Ireland. Born in London, he spent, for reasons of health, the early years of his childhood in
Alexander Goodman More
Alexander Goodman More
Switzerland where his interest in natural history first became apparent. He was educated at Rugby public school and entered Cambridge University in 1850. He took a certificate in geology in Cambridge but ill health prevented him from taking a degree. As a youth he befriended Walter Shawe Taylor and first visited Castle Taylor, their residence at Ardrahan, County Galway, in the summer of 1850. He became fascinated by the flora of the district and published his first paper ‘Notes on the Flora of Castle Taylor’. More was a regular visitor to Castle Taylor in the 1850s and was drawn irresistibly to the unique flora of the Burren. He kept a diary of his botanical and ornithological excursions and added several new species to the fauna and flora of north Clare. His observations on the Cliffs of Moher are of interest for the fascinating account of the bird life and the activities of the cliffmen who made a living from catching birds on the cliff face. More came to Ireland again in 1864 for the purpose of compiling an Irish flora and resided in Dublin. In 1867 he was appointed assistant curator to the Natural History Museum in Dublin. For the next quarter of a century there was scarcely a book or pamphlet on Irish natural history to which he did not contribute. Appointed curator of the museum in 1881, he retired in 1887. His best known works are
Cybele Hibernica and A List of Irish Birds.

Monday, July 24th. [1854]. After passing Kilmacduagh the same loose limestone prevails, only becoming still more exclusively rock and less capable of cultivation; in fact, all through what is called ‘Rock Forest,’ the surface is very similar to the most barren tracts of the Burren, and inhabited by much the same plants. We looked out in vain for Potentilla fruticosa [shrubby cinquefoil]; and the only plant not growing near Castle Taylor was Carduus tenuiflorus, close to the boundary of the two counties. Several small lakes seen close to the road had generally one end thickly overgrown with reeds and sedges; Cladium mariscus we particularly noticed. No birds were seen on the water.

We soon entered the well-wooded demesne of Mr Blood, and drove through trees for about half-an-hour, quite a novelty in this part of the country. Further on more rock, and a good and rather near view of some of the Burren - a very perfect old ruin of a castle - the exterior wall with its corner tower still remaining. At Corofin, a large village, we first find Senebiera didyma. . . Starting hence we noticed the great change produced by the strata. Instead of dry, short pasture appeared heavy clay lands, producing in the valleys luxuriant crops of hay, and even along the hill-sides a most deplorable crop of rushes, docks, etc. The country now became undulating, with streams running along the hollows, bogs in some places, and the conspicuous foxglove reminding one somewhat of Connemara. The rank vegetation of coarse weeds was to my eye anything but a pleasant contrast with the neat and bright flowers of the mountain limestone, and certainly offered far less variety to the botanist. The water, too, besides accumulating on a less pervious soil, has not the drainage afforded by ‘swallows’ and caverns, but works its way in the usual manner towards the sea. The flat slates or flags were very remarkable at Inistymon, where the road crosses the river, which occupies an enormous breadth of bottom and is very shallow, disappearing in the distance in a dark sluggish stream below some trees.

We soon reached Lahinch, and got an excellent view of Hag’s Head, and the hill that slopes down from the Cliffs of Moher. Here a most surprising multitude of people had collected as if the whole population had migrated to the seaside, crowding every available wall and seat, as thick as crows, all inhaling the sea-breeze. It is wonderful how anxious the people here are for a trip to the sea; they appear to consider it quite indispensable. A great number of lodges of every sort, all well white-washed, give one the idea of a very important watering-place. Skirting along the bay to the left, we proceeded through bog and under hill-sides till a second collection of white houses proved to be Miltown Malbay, and we took up our quarters at the Atlantic Hotel, very comfortably, but not in view of the sunset.

There is a good bit of strand below the sandhills, but only for a short distance, since the coast is a low cliff with ledges of the slaty limestone rock, running far and irregularly into the sea, abounding in rockpools and inlets, in which wherever the water remains at low water, there the Purple Urchin quite paves the bottom and is a most curious and interesting sight; each one burrowing a lodgment for itself, and then adhering with its numberless suckers so firmly that it is a matter of difficulty to detach them; the suckers frequently break off sooner than let go their hold. . . .

July 26th [1854]. We left the hotel for the Cliffs, passing Lahinch with its sandhills and bay. . . and made our way to the stables, built, as well as a tower for the accommodation of visitors, close under the best part of the cliff. Viola still growing in the grass (not sandy). On reaching the edge, we betook ourselves to one of the little safe crows’ nests built expressly, and gazed down this awful height some 700 feet. The descent is quite abrupt, and in some places the cliff overhangs the bottom; the horizontal strata so well marked in most parts as to make it look almost like a built wall. There are two detached pieces, one a long narrow ridge, and the other an isolated pyramidal needle; and there is no better way of realising the stupendous height than to look first at one of these, and after calculating the distance, to carry your eye again to the water. At first I think the very magnitude makes the eye deceive itself, and underrate the height.

Scores of gulls were wheeling round in clamorous indignation, while the cliffsmen were following their avocation not far from the tower, and ever and anon a little puffin or guillemot would shoot out and describe a circle, only to return to the cliff - their quick, straight-forward progress very different from the gulls. The birds seen were - herring gull (a few), kittiwake (thousands), puffin (a few), guillemot (plenty), razorbill (plenty), chough and jackdaw (a few), kestrel (several), peregrine (one), cormorant (a few). Many eagles are said to breed near Hag’s Head, in a place quite inaccessible from the cliffs, retreating as it descends: one is seen rarely at Moher. The rock-dove is said to inhabit the caves.

The cliffsmen form a company of fourteen, with a captain of long experience from his youth up, and still said to be the best climber. They are seated in a loop at the end, and take the young birds in nooses at the extremity of a rod of some 12 feet. A man brings up four score, sometimes more, at a haul. All I saw were young kittiwakes. The birds are boiled down for oil, and the flesh eaten afterwards by the men. They consider forty birds a-piece an average day’s work, and these will produce one bottle of oil, worth two shillings. The season lasts about two months, and their earnings average one shilling per day. The oil is said to be good for bruises, etc.; the feathers are also picked for sale. The names the birds go by are worth notice: the puffin is called ‘parrot,’ razorbill a ‘puffin,’ guillemot a ‘cliffbird.’ The puffins are said to resort to the green grassy ledges where they burrow in the turf, while the others lay their eggs on the bare rock.

Sedum rhodiola (rose root) grows on the cliffs, and Silene maritima (sea campion), with a dichotomous panicle of three or more flowers. The weather was too thick to see much, but a little further on we saw all three Isles of Aran, the largest furthest off.

After spending some three hours here, we continued our journey, and this prevented my attempting a descent on the rope, to which I had just made up my mind: the danger being only apparent, not real.

Passing through some extent of similar ground to what we had seen before, boggy, hilly, and varied with streams, we presently regained the stony region of the mountain limestone, and the change was most remarkably apparent in the vegetation, the bright and neat plants of the calcareous soil forming a most pleasing contrast with the land of bog and low rich meadow-ground, through which we had passed. Geranium sanguineum, Dryas, Sesleria, Antennaria seemed to smile upon us as old friends, and the first especially in many places quite coloured the ground. Near a glen bounded by some masses of rock, we saw a most perfect square castle placed in a commanding position, accessible only on one side, the outworks built in with the rock, so as almost to be incorporated with it, forming thus a place of immense strength. We also noticed, what is very unusual, a round castle.

The road presently brought us quite close to the sea, and we enjoyed the pleasant breeze off the water, curling so blue under a gentle wind; and, winding along beneath the first point, we alighted at a spot of great botanical interest. Some green tufts caught the eye, and these turned out to be samphire; close by, Statice dodartii, quite recently added to the Irish flora, and new to me; under foot the pretty Arenaria verna spread its lovely little stars in hundreds, and in great tufts large enough to fill my hat; and in the fissures of the rock Asplenium marinum, rather stunted; but we gathered it very fine further on, at Black Head. Hence the road kept close under the Burren, rounding Black Head, and giving us quite a grand view of the mountain-side, very stony, to be sure, but in some places patched with green. This was, perhaps, the most enjoyable part of our whole trip, the water often within a few yards, and on the other side the mountain rising quite suddenly. We found Saxifraga hypnoides, like a little to hirta, and the Cystopteris.

(But, alas, we missed the great prize; for, under our feet, and only across the road where we alighted to gather asplenium, a little nearer the water, was probably growing that lovely fern, the maidenhair. Had I seen Newman before this trip, we had not passed without a good search, at least.)

[July] 27th [1854]. Continued our way, seeing many old castles, and with an indistinct view of Connemara in the distance. At a part of the road, half way up one of the Burren hills, we had an excellent prospect, reaching to Galway (and, I believe, Castle Taylor, too). At the road-side, F. spied out Nepeta cataria of gigantic dimensions, Orobanche rubra, a thyme, and Festuca rubra. After visiting the ‘Holy Well,’ where the water is wonderfully cold, we followed a foot-path, some three miles over the spur of the mountain, to Corcanroe Abbey, a ruin of some interest; we were especially struck with the angular ornaments of the chancel roof, and the capitals of several of the pillars were well carved. They showed the tomb of King ---, reported to have been represented as a true Irishman, with a pipe in his hand!, of which the traces are still pointed out. At Kinvarra we saw Coronopus didyma plentifully, also Carduus tenuiflorus, and reached Castle Taylor about 6 o’clock in the evening.

Taken from C. B. Moffat (ed.), Life and Letters of Alexander G. More (Dublin 1898), pp 49-54.

Letters from Clare, 1852
Harriet Martineau


An account of Post Famine Clare, 1861
Henry Coulter