1. Arigna Mining Experience, County Roscommon
Learn all about the local men who sustained their communities from the 1700s through to the late 1900s in the coal mining industry on a tour around the Arigna Mining Experience in County Roscommon. Along the way, try to imagine how the men worked in these cramped conditions, and how, at its peak, they provided up to 55,000 tonnes of coal from the mines to the local power station before it closed in 1990. Each tour guide is an ex-miner, so you get first-hand experience and stories of working underground and the history of this fascinating underworld.
2. Marble Arch Caves, County Fermanagh
Go beneath the earth and discover a wonderful subterranean world of hidden caves framed by stalagmites and stalactites. Take a guided boat ride through the Marble Arch Caves spanning counties Fermanagh and Cavan, and you’ll find yourself in the midst of 650 million years of history, where limestone tunnels give way to cascades of creamy calcite-coated walls and shimmering underworld rivers. For a quick taster of the tour or for those who are a little uneasy at the thought of confined spaces, visitors can be transported to the sights and sounds of the caves through cutting-edge technology thanks to the Cave Explorer Virtual Reality Experience.
Walking around the corner at Skreen Hill in the show cave and seeing and hearing the river in full spate – it stops me in my tracks every time.Deirdre, tour guide, Marble Arch Caves
3. Mitchelstown Cave, County Tipperary
Mitchelstown Cave in County Tipperary was discovered by chance when a crowbar fell between cracks in 1833. In the mid-1960s the cave was developed into the first show cave in Ireland, and it remains one of the finest limestone caves in Europe. Guided tours lead visitors through ancient passageways, framed by stalactites, stalagmites and huge calcite pillars. The caves even play host to music concerts, film productions and pop-up restaurants!
4. Aillwee Caves, County Clare
Situated in the incredible limestone landscape of the Burren in County Clare, the Aillwee Caves are an amazing underground labyrinth full of unusual wonders including a frozen waterfall and the bones of a now extinct brown bear that once inhabited the caves a whopping 10,400 years ago. The caves were once Ireland’s best kept secret – found by a farmer in the 1940s who followed his dog in and didn’t tell a soul about his discovery until 30 years later! Expert guides take you on a 45-minute tour over bridged chasms and alongside crashing waterfalls, where huge stalactites hang from the limestone ceiling overhead.
The limestone karst landscape in this region is certainly different! Viewing it from both underground and overground is an incredible experience.David Bennett, tour guide, Aillwee Caves
5. St Michan’s Church Vaults, Dublin
Dublin’s St Michan’s Church was founded back in 1095 and houses the organ Handel played as he was composing The Messiah. Below the church lie five burial crypts containing the mummified remains of some of the city’s most influential families from 1600 to 1800. A guided tour gives brave visitors incredible insight into the history of these ancient bodies, including details on the lives of “the big four” – four mummified corpses in open coffins dubbed the Unknown, the Thief, the Nun and the Crusader. Some of these remains are over 1,000 years old!
6. Cushendun Caves, County Antrim
The Cushendun Caves are over 400 million years old, and were forged by the force of the sea and natural erosion. Found along the Antrim coastline near the idyllic village of Cushendun, the caves are free to visit any time. Love Game of Thrones®? The you may recognise these caves as the backdrop to where Melisandre gives birth to a shadow demon beneath Renly's Camp, in order to murder Stannis' brother in the name of the Lord of Light.