Explore the Marble Arch Caves
Descending into the Marble Arch Caves is like stepping into the Underworld.
There’s a chill in the air. Bright sunlight fades to darkness. The sound of water is everywhere… dripping, trickling, gushing through the labyrinth of rivers, waterfalls and vast echoing chambers.
These are the Marble Arch Caves, one of Europe’s most impressive cave systems. Formed over 330 million years ago, they reach more than 11km in length, and are constantly evolving, as the underground waters continue to erode the County Fermanagh limestone to form a strange and fantastical world.
The caves are named after the Marble Arch, a nearby limestone archway whose polished, water-worn appearance resembles marble and prompted locals to bestow its charming, but misleading name.
A momentous discovery
Before they were first explored in the late 19th century, the caves lay undisturbed for millennia with no chink of light to disturb their primordial gloom. The locals knew of their existence but regarded them with superstition and fear. The caves were, they believed, home to witches, ghosts and fairies, lying in wait for anyone who dared enter this underground lair.
It wasn’t until 1895 that two intrepid explorers, Édouard-Alfred Martel and Dublin-born naturalist Lyster Jameson braved the darkness armed only with candles and magnesium flares to light their way. What they found was extraordinary: passages carved through the rock by the merging of three rivers (the Owenbrean, the Aghinrawn and the Sruh Croppa), underground pools and vast caverns adorned by curious calcite features formed over millions of years.
Exploring the caves
A guided tour of the Marble Arch Caves allows you to follow in the footsteps of those brave adventurers. You board a small flat-bottomed boat and set off along one of the underground rivers, ducking to avoid rocky outcrops as your guide shows you weird and wonderful geological phenomena, including stalagmites that sit like melting candles atop bare rock, stalactites that hang from above like melting icicles, and cave curtains that drape from the roof like, well... curtains.
Leaving the boat and following the paths that lead you from cavern to cavern, you encounter features with intriguing names such as the Guardian Angel, the Porridge Pot and the Organ Pipes. In a perfectly still pool of water is what appears to be a city of tiny spires beneath the surface. But appearances can be deceiving, as guides on the tour point out – it’s just a reflection of stalactites hanging directly above the pool.
In the visitor centre, a virtual reality experience gives a teaser of what lies underground and is ideal for anyone who cannot take the guided tour. Special events are also held regularly in the caves, with everything from candlelight tours to sound baths and yoga sessions on offer.
Beyond the caves
The Marble Arch Caves are part of the Cuilcagh Lakelands Geopark, a region of great geological, archaeological and historical significance, which straddles the border between counties Fermanagh and Cavan in Northern Ireland.
It’s one of Ireland's most diverse regions – encompassing everything from rare blanket bog and forest to impressive sights such as the inland cliffs at Maghoo, the megalithic tombs of the Cavan Burren Park and the iconic Early Christian monastery on Devenish Island.
Just down the road from the caves is another unmissable experience – the Cuilcagh Boardwalk, which leads you to the top of Cuilcagh Mountain, and is known as the “Stairway to Heaven” because of the spectacular views from the summit viewing platform.
Stunning scenery, fascinating history, and the awe-inspiring natural wonder of the Marble Arch Caves – sounds like the perfect destination for your next holiday!
Marble Arch Caves: need to know
All tours of the Marble Arch Caves are guided and you can book your tickets in advance.
The guided cave tour takes around 75 minutes and visitors are asked to arrive at least 30 minutes before the tour starts.
A basic fitness level is required as there are steps throughout the tour and approximately 154 steps to exit. Unfortunately, the caves are not accessible to wheelchair users.
The visitor centre has a café and souvenir shop, as well as toilets and free Wi-Fi.
Wear flat, sturdy shoes for your visit and bring a coat as the temperature in the caves is around 10ºC.
Cuilcagh Boardwalk Trail
The Cuilcagh Boardwalk Trail meanders through one of the largest expanses of blanket bog in Northern Ireland, traversing over tracks, boardwalk and staircase. A steep climb is required to reach the viewing platform which provides breath taking views of the surrounding low lands.
Corralea Activity Centre Ltd
Corralea offers a range of outdoor activities & self-catering cottages on the same site. All experiences are eco-friendly to safeguard the quality of the water and the peacefulness which surrounds Lough Macnean. Corralea is open all year round, although some of the activities are only available May-Sep. They cater for residents and day visitors (Couples, small adult groups & families).