The Shannon Region is famous for its caves, an underworld that usually only the most adventurous will get to experience. However, there are three superb cave systems where nature has demonstrated her architectural supremacy, open as show caves. These are the Aillwee cave and Doolin cave in county Clare, and Crag cave in county Kerry.
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Aillwee Cave beneath the Burren near Ballyvaughan is one of Ireland's leading attractions with its stalactites, stalagmites, relics of bears, and a waterfall. The cave is typical of those found in the Burren where the limestone meets shale or sandstone.
The caves were discovered in 1944 and are about 600m long. Visitors are conducted through caverns, over bridged chasms, and under strange formations along the course of a great underground river that seeped through the rocks, dissolving away the limestone and eventually forming large chambers.
After the ice melted the cave became dry and the slow growth began of the huge stalactites and stalagmites, which can be seen in the cave today. The visitor centre has won architectural awards for its design.
While Aillwee Cave is a show cave that can be experienced by everyone, beneath the peaceful lunar surface of the Burren is an underworld of disappearing streams, hidden caves, and closed depressions. Some fifty kilometres of chartered cave systems delight the potholer in the Burren region. These are active caves and not for the uninitiated, but guided pothole trips into some of these caves can be arranged through the Burren Outdoor Education Centre.
Crag Cave near Castleisland, Co. Kerry was discovered by accident in 1983 and is thought to be over a million years old. A special lighting system is installed throughout the cave to enhance its natural beauty. The limestone cave is on two levels. Caverns, arcades, vaults, and passages have been carved by the river, running on the lower level.
100 metre long Doolin Cave in county Clare, was discovered in 1952 and first opened in spring 2006. It most outstanding feature is a large stalactite, measuring 6.54m (20 feet) and held to the cave ceiling by a square of calcite smaller than .3 metres square. Itís the longest in the northern hemisphere. There are two chambers that visitors see on the 30 minute tour. Because of the delicate and fragile nature of the cave atmosphere visitor numbers are strictly limited.
3 miles south of Ballyvaughan, 40 miles from Galway/Limerick.
Car parking on site.
Tel. 0 65 7077036
Open: Cave, 9.30am daily, year round; garden centre from March-Oct
Craft shop, farm shop, cheese manufacturing, restaurant, and coffee shop.
Web: Aillwee Cave
Tours last about 30 minutes.
Castleisland, Co. Kerry
Tel: 0 66 714 1244
Email: Crag Cave
Open: daily, mid March-end Oct, daily, 10am-6pm; in July and Aug until 6.30pm; last tour 30 minutes before closing.
Restaurant; souvenir shop; indoor adventure centre for children.
Web: Crag Cave
Limestone cave on two levels with river and many formations.
western edge of the Burren near cliffs of Moher; visitors transported from Doolin village Bruach na hAille Riverside Restaurant
Tel of cave: 0 65 7075761; Tel. of restaurant: 065 7074120
Email to book: Tours at Doolin cave
Open: April to Nov, 9am-6pm, daily.
Web: Doolin Cave
Burren Outdoor Education Centre.
Turlough, Bell Harbour
Tel: 0 65 7078066
Email: Burren Education Centre
Web: Burren Outdoor Education Centre
Information and photos courtesy Shannon Region Development Corporation.