Skip to Content

History behind the Marble Arch Caves

History behind the Marble Arch Caves

For countless thousands of years the Marble Arch Caves lay undisturbed in inky black, primeval darkness, while the cave river eroded and dissolved away millions of tonnes of limestone to carve and shape the majestic cave passages.

Rank upon rank of stalactites grew slowly from the cave roof in pitch darkness where a person could spend a lifetime in the cave and never see their hand in front of their face.

Superstition and fear kept the caves free from visitors and complete darkness prevailed until 1895 when two intrepid explorers disturbed the silence and natural order of the caves, and the first beam of light pierced the blackness, breaking the long sleep of the Marble Arch Caves.

The two companions, equipped with Martel’s American-made, collapsible, canvas canoe, set off into the unknown by candlelight.  Dark, eerie shadows flickered and shifted before them while the blackness stole back in behind them only to be dispelled by stark brilliance as they lit strips of magnesium in the largest chambers.  Light flooded these chambers, driving back the darkness and revealing their magnificent splendour to humans for the first time.

Hours later, the two explorers emerged back into the daylight.  Wet, cold and covered in mud but exhilarated by what they had seen, they were eager to tell of their adventures.  Martel was so impressed that he suggested the Marble Arch Caves would make a fine tourist show cave in his 1897 book Irlande et Cavernes Anglaises.

Martel’s prophetic statement was not realised until 1985 when Fermanagh District Council opened part of the caves as a tourist attraction.  The popularity of the show cave was immediate and to date over 1.5 million visitors have taken a guided tour through what is a truly spectacular subterranean world.

Subtle electric lighting reveals hanging stalactites, translucent mineral veils and cascades of calcite.  One of the largest of these flowstones, the Porridge Pot, took 50,000 years to grow from slow drips from above.  Visitors follow Martel’s journey on foot and by boat along the silent cave river to land beside a sandy beach that has never seen sunlight.

Over one hundred years have passed since Marble Arch Caves were first explored.  A long time in human terms and while a person could live a long life into their old age it is but a mere blink in the colossal time span of the caves.  In truth one hundred years is barely enough time for a two-metre long stalactite to add an extra millimetre to its length.

Group bookings Icon

Group Bookings & Private Tours

Contact us on

+44 (0) 28 66321815