The Cliffs of Moher stands proudly at the centre of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. This ancient site was forged by nature over 320 million years ago and its first sighting by man stretches back almost 2,000 years.
Located on a tranquil headland overlooking the ancient Cliffs, stands the magnificent O’Brien’s Tower which was first built back in 1835 by local landowner and Member of Parliament, Cornelius O’Brien. Since then, millions of people from all around the world have visited O’Brien’s Tower, whose viewing platform is located near the highest point of the 214-meter-high cliffs and provides stunning views of Clare, the Kerry Mountains, Galway Bay, and the Arran Islands.
A descendant of the first High King of Ireland Brian Boru, Cornelius O’Brien was the third son of Henry and Helen O’Brien. He was born in 1782 at Birchfield, Liscannor, Co. Clare. In 1816, he married Margaret Long from Waterford. As a young man he was first attended school in the nearby town of Ennis before continuing his education at the King’s Inns, Dublin, and went on to become a proctor, solicitor and magistrate for County Clare. He held a seat in Westminster as Member of Parliament from 1832 to 1857, losing only once, in 1847.
Cornelius O’Brien was an extremely wealthy man. As a landlord he owned approximately 10,000 acres of prime land and lived in Birchfield House which was situated close to the Cliffs of Moher. Throughout all of his life he fostered a great love and appreciation of the Cliffs and used his position to promote this beautiful area at every opportunity. Recognising the great potential for tourism in the area, he had the vision in 1835 to construct what we now know as the O’Brien’s Tower. It’s primary function was to accommodate guests and visitors who could then get enhanced views of the Cliffs. It is said that and at every available opportunity, he would bring guests and friends to the tower for entertainment. Along with the tower, he went on to build a holding wall, pathways, a stone picnic table on the cliff edge, and eventually a stable complex to accommodate visitors.
O’Brien was well known to be a benevolent landlord who provided financial assistance to tenants to improve their farms. He wished to enhance the educational prospects of the locality and built a school here in 1845. He was without question a visionary and as many would say, well before his time, creating a tourist attraction and infrastructure to improving people’s journeys through the area. He facilitated the building of O’Brien’s Bridge between Lahinch and Liscannor. During such difficult famine-stricken times, he aspired to enhance and embrace the value of community by developing Gothic styled Refreshers Wells, and the rustic seating area and well house at St. Brigid’s Well.
Cornelius O’Brien is recognised as the forefather of tourism at the Cliffs of Moher and was an important catalyst in enabling the surrounding area to thrive in the harshest of times. He died in 1857 and was laid to rest in a family mausoleum behind St. Brigid’s Well. A column was erected by local people in 1859 and paid for by public subscription in memory of a kind, gentle man, whose name will live on for generations to come……