Mountains, caves, and bogs straddling the Irish border region
Marble Arch Caves are one of Europe’s finest showcaves and are located in Northern Ireland, close to the village of Florencecourt in County Fermanagh. The caves are widely regarded as a world-class natural attraction containing marvelous stream passages formed by three rivers that sink underground on the slopes of Cuilcagh Mountain. At Marble Arch Caves, guided cave tours allow visitors to explore this magnificent underworld, first by boat past soaring rocky walls along a subterranean river and, later on, walking past bewitching arrays of glistening stalactites, stalagmites and flowstones.
In 1985, Fermanagh District Council opened the Marble Arch Caves to the public followed by the opening of nearby Cuilcagh Mountain Park in 1998. Due to their internationally important landscapes, both Marble Arch Caves and Cuilcagh Mountain Park were jointly endorsed by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) as one of the first European Geoparks in 2001 and later as a Global Geopark in 2004. In 2007, the Geopark expanded to include 18,000 hectares of some of the most evocative and scenic landscapes across west Fermanagh.
As geological features do not recognize political boundaries, an application was made to the European Geoparks Network in 2008 to expand Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark across the border with the Republic of Ireland, into County Cavan. This logical progression meant that the geological story of places such as Cuilcagh Mountain, literally bisected by the border, could be told completely. The expansion has not only complemented the existing landscapes, but has added many glacial landforms to the geological repertoire, features that were not fully represented in the Geopark prior to the expansion.
Of course, it is not just about geology, the expanded Geopark in County Cavan also contains a particularly high concentration of archaeological features, some dating as far back as Neolithic times. The stunning Burren Forest in west Cavan contains wonderful examples of prehistoric tombs, whilst the turbulent history of Ireland is reflected by the numerous 17th Century castles dotted across the landscape.
In recognition of the outstanding natural and cultural heritage and the valuable addition that it would make to the existing Geopark, the application for the expansion into County Cavan was approved in September 2008, making Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark, the first transnational cross-border Geopark in the world.
Today the underlying limestone and sandstone geology of the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark has helped to create a patchwork of rare, natural habitats; some of the last remaining natural areas of damp ash woodland in Ireland are found along rivers that emerge from hidden caves. Limestone grasslands are present on the lower slopes of Cuilcagh Mountain, hosting a unique community of wild flowers, animals and insects. Blanket bog up to two or three metres thick covers large swathes of the landscape with a deep cloak of peat, a gigantic natural sponge covering the bedrock.
Some 200,000 people visit the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark every year to enjoy the various activities on offer. Some of these include guided tours of the Marble Arch Caves, hill walking on Cuilcagh Mountain, motor-touring routes of the region, or visiting the majestic viewpoint on top of the Cliffs of Magho overlooking the huge expanse of Lough Erne. Field study programmes attract thousands of school children, university students and enthusiastic adults who want to learn more about the fantastic natural and cultural heritage in this amazing corner of Ireland.
Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark
Tel: +44 (0) 28 66348855
Fax: +44 (0) 28 66348928