Monday, November 18, 2013

Visiting Ireland: Marble Arch Caves

The Marble Arch Caves are a series of natural limestone caves located near the village of Florencecourt in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland.

The caves are named after a natural limestone arch which crosses the Cladagh river not far from the caves.

Diorama showing the cave system

Here you see a representation of the caves.  The caves form the longest known cave system in Northern Ireland.

I love the tiny tour boat in the diorama!
Back in 2001, the caves and the nearby Cuilcagh Mountain Park joined to become a European Global Geopark - the first park in the United Kingdom to be recognized by the European Geoparks Network, which is affiliated with UNESCO Earth Sciences Division.

As the park now takes in parts of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, it is the first international Geopark in the world.

Early explorers used ropes to lower themselves into the cave network
See the tiny explorers  depicted on the left!  Aren't they cute?
Underground exploration of the caves began in 1895 by a Frenchman, Edouard-Alfred Martel, and a Dublin naturalist named Lyster Jameson.  They used a canvas boat and brought along candles and magnesium flares for light.  This would not be my idea of a good time!  I can't believe how brave these spelunkers were!

In this primitive (by our standards) fashion, they explored about a thousand feet of passages, including a junction where three rivers meet underground!

They drew a map of their discoveries and line drawings depicting their expedition.

I love this view of the cave mouth with the tiny little sheep wandering down the steep hillside.  I would think the sheep could get into lots of trouble if they wandered into the cave!

After initially exploring the underground system, Martel and Jameson thought the Marble Arch Cave could make a worthy show cave, but it was not until 1982 that work eventually began on creating a tourist attraction out of it.

When efforts began to make the tourist attraction, development included building concrete and metal walkways with handrails throughout the cave and the installation of electric lighting.

Electric lighting seems like a good thing when you are deep underground.  Forget about candles and magnesium flares.

After being oriented about the cave system and it's history, tourists are guided into the cave itself.

This walkway looks beautiful to me!

The Marble Arch Caves "show cave" was first opened to the public on May 29, 1985.

Looking down at the cave mouth from the trail

Wrong country, of course, but couldn't you just imagine Merlin, the magician living in such a cave?

It doesn't look like a very big opening in this photo

Here we see how large it actually is.
Visitors travel through the first part of the caves by boat on the subterranean Cladagh River, before walking through the rest of the chambers.

Here you get a glimpse of the tour boat and a waiting guide

A tour boat filled with tourists heading into the darkness

A spectacular staircase through the majestic subterranean chamber
The caves are open from March through September each year and receive close to 100,000 visitors from 100 countries worldwide during a season.  More than a million visitors have viewed the caves since the opening of the park in 1985.

A dark stalactite hangs like a bloody hand from the ceiling

Tourists make a colorful addition to this underground chamber

Baby stalactites, looking like lace fringe

A great stone table

There is a short section of the walled pathway dug into the floor of the cave, to facilitate the tourist route through the underground caverns.  It is called the "Moses Walk", because it has a low ceiling and the river continues to run at shoulder level on either side of the path.

Our Irish Tourguide Lisa posing with the Cave Marker

This concludes our tour of Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark.

Thanks for joining our tour!

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