Doolin Cave is the most recently opened show cave in Ireland and has been awarded the highest possible gold star accolade for its ecological management. The cave was previously known as Pol-an-Ionain but was renamed after the nearest town when it became a show cave.

Your chauffeur will bring you two kilometers from Doolin or four kilometers from Lisdoonvarna. The cave is home to 'The Great Stalactite' which is a world-class Natural Wonder. It is fast becoming one of the most important eco-tourism attractions in Ireland. Measuring 7.3 meters (23 feet) in length, it is recognized as being the longest stalactite in the Northern Hemisphere. 

The tour starts at the new Visitor Centre. The natural cave is reached by going down an 80-foot shaft and through the tunnel. From here visitors use hard hats as most of the cave is not artificially lit and the passage is kept as natural as possible. This includes the careful development of cave passages and the careful reduction of artificial light and heat production. It even avoided the destruction of fragile cave sediments which are of great scientific value. Doolin Cave has been awarded the highest accolade, Gold Star, for its work in Eco-Tourism.

From the moment you descend over 80ft into the first tunnel, with your guide, you will enter a world carved by water. Donning your hardhat you will follow the rough-hewn route of the early explorers who first discovered the cave in 1952. When you enter the stunning, cathedral-like dome that houses the huge stalactite, you will be briefly plunged into a world of primitive darkness. Then, from this darkness, you will be in awe as the subtly-lit mighty stalactite appears before you. You stand looking at one of nature's great works that are a breathtaking work-in-progress. It has been a work in progress for millennia and will probably continue to be so till the end of time. Far below this Masterpiece of Nature, a magical stream carries the water that carved the primeval world around you to the hills outside.


Doolin locals John and Helen Browne started planning to develop the cave and build a visitor center with interpretative facilities, a restaurant, a treatment plant, and space for 70 cars in 1991. It took almost 20 years to make this a reality, as the plans to develop the cave for tourism were controversial. Their application was rejected several times until it was modified and eventually became an example of a new generation of show caves that works to minimize the impact of cave visits. This includes careful development of trails and light, reduction of light and heat production, and careful monitoring of the cave. It even avoided the destruction of fragile cave sediments which are of great scientific value.

Cave Conservation

The Brownes are very committed to the conservation of the cave to ensure that there are no negative impacts resulting from providing access to the public. It is central to their strategy that the operation of Doolin Cave adheres to the concept of sustainable development. This has been defined as being development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainable tourism aims to meet the needs and aspirations of the host area and its people, tourists and operators alike, in a way which respects all interest and those who will follow on. As mentioned above, Doolin Cave has been awarded the highest accolade, Gold Star, for its work in Eco-Tourism


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During the development of the cave, they made sure that they did not interfere with the growth or stability of the stalactite. No explosives were used in construction. The cave passages were enlarged by hand using a technique known as "Plug and Feather" in order not to damage the stalactite. The operation of Doolin Cave is geared to protect the cave system for future generations by monitoring and managing any changes that may occur in the cave environment. Two of the main negative impacts experienced by show caves universally are a rise in temperature and a decrease in humidity. Changes in temperature and humidity have to be kept at a minimum to avoid damage to the cave system or the great stalactite. Professor Gunn of Limestone Research and Consultancy carries out a detailed monitoring program on the temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, and radon using data loggers.

The number of visitors to the cave is limited for environmental reasons. There is an upper limit of 55,000 annually. Visitor numbers are restricted to 20- 25 per tour. The picture above shows some early visitors . . . they are the 1952 exploration team.


The Brownes try to preserve the quality of the groundwater. The Great Stalactite depends on clean water to grow and they endeavor to ensure that no contaminants enter the groundwater. They have installed grease traps in the car park as a precautionary measure so that any oil leaks from vehicles cannot seep into the ground.

Lighting in the Cave

Another negative impact on the climate of show caves is the introduction of lighting. They are very aware of the sensitivity of the cave system and the dangers to the great stalactite. They use cold lighting in the main chamber. Cold lighting is used to prevent lampenflora in the cave. Lampenflora is the result of spores being brought into the cave on peoples' shoes and clothes. The spores then react to UV light and high temperatures, this leads to moss growing in the cave. Cold LED lights are used so that the temperature in the cave does not rise and the light is not too bright. Also, the lights are always switched off in the chambers when tours are not in progress. You can visit their web site at


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"We spent a wonderful day with Jim and are still raving about all we saw and did, as Jim showed us so many fabulous places. Your day will be very well spent if you can schedule Jim to show you this beautiful section of Ireland!"

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