What is it about boys and caves? Maybe it’s the promise of adventure, of burrowing down and finding some secret place. Whatever it is, the lure of an underground hole is well nigh irresistible. Once I saw the small road sign for Doolin Cave – promising a great stalactite, no less – I insisted we follow and find it. This being Ireland it was, of course, further afield than the signs promised.
Doolin Cave is located on the western edge of The Burren, an extensive karst area in County Clare. Karst, in case you don’t know, is a landscape that’s shaped by the dissolution of multiple layers of soluble bedrock. Hence The Burren happens to be Ireland’s most important cave area. This mystical, lunar-limestone region is punctuated by a large number of active stream caves, yet only one river runs over ground through its terrain to reach the sea. Over 35 miles of cave passages have been surveyed in the region, with the Doolin Cave considered the most significant of all.
The cave was discovered by English pot-holers exploring the honeycomb of caves tunneled by rivers that ran through the soft limestone. Discovered in 1952, the Great Stalactite measures 7.3 metres in length – about 24 feet – and is recognised as being the longest stalactite in the Northern hemisphere.
Unfortunately, there’s not much to do at Doolin Cave. After descending 120 steps and being ceremoniously plunged into darkness, the great stalactite gets its great reveal before you turn around and march 120 steps back up and out. Still, it’s a big cave – and were I 10 years old again I’d be telling you it’s pretty awesome, dude.