The discovery of the Aillwee Cave in northwestern County Clare, Ireland came about when a dog chased a rabbit.
In 1944 Jacko McGann was herding his sheep at the foot of Aillwee Mountain in an area of northwest County Clare, Ireland, known for vast limestone pavements and a lunar landscape. His dog chased a rabbit up the mountain and into a small opening in the rocks. Growing curious, Jacko followed and soon realized he had stepped into a previously undiscovered cave. His only source of light a candle, he continued.
I had heard this story before I went on a well-guided and well-lit tour of Aillwee Cave (also appropriately known as McGann’s Cave). It amazed me that anyone would plunge into a very dark unknown.
Jacko kept his discovery to himself for 30 years and in 1973 told cavers about it. Armed with better lighting equipment, they explored until stopped by boulders. Shortly thereafter, two local families bought the cave, and after extensive excavation and extension of the lighting and access system, it was opened to the public.
Aillwee Cave is the best known and one of the oldest of thousands of ancient caves in the Burren. Some of the calcite samples in it have been dated to more than 350,000 years of age.
Glacial melt waters from an early ice age formed an underground river beneath the mountain, leaving in its wake a cave system of over a kilometer of passageways. It has an underground river, waterfall, and large stalactites and stalagmites, and one of the most fascinating discoveries was the remains of brown bears and indentations that indicated that they’d hibernated in the cave.
One third of the length of the cave is open to the public, daily throughout the year.
While the cave alone is well worth viewing as a magnificent natural wonder, the site offers other attractions. The wood and mountain trail provides views of the surrounding Burren and Galway Bay, a chance to glimpse the extensive plant life, and example of prehistoric dwellings.
The Burren Birds of Prey Centre, devoted to education, ecology, and conservation, participates in the World Wide Breeding Programme for endangered and rare species.
Among the birds you will see are owls, hawks and falcons, eagles, and buzzards. Twice daily, flying displays occur. You can also have the opportunity to interact directly with hawks.
Other features include a gift shop with a large selection of gemstones and fossils, a farm shop, and an inviting tearoom.
Visiting Aillwee Cave provides a variety of exceptional opportunities to experience nature in a very personal and memorable way.