25 years on, caves still a cultural mecca for tourists and students

Published: 13 May 2010 09:590 comments

The Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark - a world class tourist attraction in Fermanagh - celebrates a special milestone this month - the 25th anniversary of the Marble Arch show caves system being officially opened.

The Marble Arch Caves were officially opened to the public 25 years ago. Team members who have been on the staff from the launch of the major tourist attraction include Richard Watson, Geopark Manager; Geraldine McGovern, Administrative Officer; and Arthur Roche, Supervisor.

The honour of officially opening the caves on May 29, 1985 went to the then Director of Tourism with Fermanagh Council, John Crichton, who said the project reflected the great courage of the council in going ahead with the idea and seeing it through to completion.

And the Chairman of the Council, Mr. Caldwell McClaughry speaking at the launch said: "The caves are not only of value in tourist terms, but I'm sure will also be an important and meaningful resource in terms of education".

Twenty-five years on and they continue to be just that. Visitors come from all over the world to enjoy outings to this "fascinating underground world".

The journey through tunnels, paths and lakes - involving a short boat journey - takes 75 minutes with a guide explaining the various scenes, including the famous stalactites.

The years have certainly rolled on from the discovery of the Marble Arch complex in 1895 by the famous caves explorer, French man Edouard Alfred Martel - the first person to enter the caves and do a systematic exploration.

In 1897 - in his book published on caves in Ireland and England - he devoted almost a chapter to Marble Arch Caves and thought they would make a fine tourist cave.

Hence, he is acknowledged for coming up with the concept - which 90 years later became a reality - thanks to the project being pursued by John Crichton and also by Gerry Burns, in his role as Clerk and Chief Executive.

Three current members of the team at the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark have been on the staff from the caves' public opening - Richard Watson, Geopark Manager, started in January 1985; Arthur Roche, Supervisor, actually started in 1982 when work started on developing the caves; and Geraldine McGovern, Administrative Officer, officially started on April 8, 25 years ago.

Richard, a son of the late George and Chrissie Watson, who had done some caving with Major Wheeler and Colonel Halpin during his schooldays at Portora and had studied the geology of Marble Arch for an A'level - recalls being present on the day that the caves opened to the public.

A short time earlier, a BBC crew spent a week filming a programme on the caves, which at that time featured Neil Hannon, as a member of St. Macartin's Cathedral choir.

Over the years, the caves have attracted many famous names and now attract visitors from over 100 different countries.

Visitor numbers remain steady, although Richard mentions that tourism is affected by outside factors, for example the current volcanic ash situation.

And even when the caves opened for the new season at Easter this year, they were affected by the weather - the county's fall of snow!

However, they are hoping for a good summer at the famous attraction, which appeals to not only visitors from afar, but local people who bring friends and relations, and also many school groups.

Richard, Arthur and Geraldine, who greatly enjoy their work and the many people they meet, were speaking on Tuesday as the caves hosted schoolchildren from Drogheda; their educational visit included the cave tour and also a visit to Cuilcagh mountain park looking at the limestone.

Members of Herefordshire Geological Association were due to visit yesterday, Wednesday, and in early June, they will welcome a visiting group from Hong Kong. "They are hoping to develop a Geopark and are looking at the geology of Northern Ireland," explained Richard, who mentions that the province is one of the most diverse geological regions for its size.

In reference to the Marble Arch project, Richard Watson acknowledges people's faith, confidence and vision to look forward.

"Collectively we and other people have been given the responsibility of getting on with it and developing it," said Richard, who believes they have done pretty well.

Over the years, Richard admits there have been ups and downs, for instance losing colleagues, such as Conor Burns, who was totally dedicated to his work at the caves.

However, on the up side, he finds it satisfying to see people coming from all over the world and the favourable comments that are made. As well as receiving repeat visitors, seeing people enjoying themselves is another gratifying aspect.

And as the years progress, the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark has gone on to greater things.

But then, putting it into perspective in relation to human time and cave time, the scene inside the caves remains 'virtually unchanged'.

"The fastest growing stalactite has grown about one tenth of a millimetre in 25 years," explains Richard, who says if Martel came back after 130 years, nothing would have changed.

Jump to first paragraph.

Comments

comments powered by Disqus

Get more stories from our Roundup section

23 Apr 2014 15:35

Car stolen in "creeper burglary"

A car was stolen during a so-called “creeper burglary” at Raceview Court near the Cornagrade Road in Enniskillen.

Social:

23 Apr 2014 13:15

Castle Archdale hosts Dawn Chorus event

LOCAL people are invited to meet at Castle Archdale at 5am on Saturday, May 3, to listen to the birds welcome the new day in fine voice.

Social:

23 Apr 2014 11:30

Radio DJ includes Fermanagh stop in marathon challenge for charity

A radio DJ will bring her fundraising marathon challenge to Fermanagh this June in aid of Cancer Research UK.

Social:

23 Apr 2014 09:30

Arsonists responsible for 15 gorse fires since beginning of April

Arsonists are being blamed for starting around 15 gorse fires in the Garrison and Belcoo area since the beginning of April.

Social:

22 Apr 2014 17:00

Mallards slip into bottom two

Ballinamallard United slipped into the bottom two in the Danske Bank Premiership on goal difference following today's 2-2 draw with Dungannon Swifts at Ferney Park.

Social:

22 Apr 2014 15:00 • Editorial Department

Opinion - Kylie Noble - Why I’m excited to vote for the first time

The rites of passage of growing up vary from person to person but throughout my own life events such as turning 13, my first formal, my GCSE and A level results, my 18th birthday (and my first and to date only hangover that followed), getting into university and moving away from home are just a few which I imagine are pretty common landmarks among my generation.

Social: Comments0 comments

22 Apr 2014 15:00

Rucksacks stolen in car break-in

A car was broken into at Navar Forest near Derrygonnelly last night (Monday).

Social:

22 Apr 2014 13:00 • Rodney Edwards

Stormont Files: Farm Watch designed to prevent rural crime - O'Neill

FARMERS in Fermanagh are being encouraged by the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) in Enniskillen to take part in the Farm Watch Scheme, an initiative endorsed by Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill.

Social:

22 Apr 2014 12:00

Lisnaskea home attacked

A house in Lisnaskea has been attacked.

Social:

22 Apr 2014 11:00 • Rodney Edwards

Stormont Files: Litter droppers approach MLA to quash £75 fine

A NUMBER of people in Fermanagh have been fined £75 for “dropping a cigarette butt or a sweet paper” on the street, according to UUP MLA Tom Elliott.

Social: Comments0 comments

22 Apr 2014 09:00

Motorist knew insurance shown to police had been cancelled

A 47-year-old factory worker has admitted fraudulently using a certificate of car insurance by showing it to the police, knowing it had been cancelled.

Social:

21 Apr 2014 22:30

Man(20) took father's car without consent

A 20-year-old man thought he was being “sensible” when he got behind the wheel of a crashed car to drive it home.

Social:

21 Apr 2014 19:00

Jail sentence for driver caught without insurance four times in two weeks

A 30-year-old car dealer caught driving without insurance four times in two weeks despite paying out £3,500 in premiums has been given a jail sentence.

Social:

21 Apr 2014 17:30

Number out of work in Fermanagh fell by 2.4 per cent in March

Unemployment in Fermanagh fell by 2.4 per cent last month.

Social:

21 Apr 2014 15:00 • Meadhbh Monahan

Steering a safe path of expansion through the downturn

Liam Connolly Road Freight (LCRF) provides groupage services (i.e. from single pallet collections to full double-deck trailer collections) for over 300 customers throughout Ireland and the UK each day.

Social: Comments0 comments

21 Apr 2014 13:00 • Rodney Edwards

Irish President is latest to commend work of Enniskillen church leaders

THE work of Enniskillen’s two main church leaders, the Very Rev. Kenneth Hall and Monsignor Peter O’Reilly, has received a warm acknowledgement from yet another head of state.

Social: Comments0 comments

21 Apr 2014 09:00 • Editorial Department

Not against a community centre but not on ‘our doorstep’

“WE are not against a community centre, we just don’t want it on our doorstep.”

Social: Comments0 comments

20 Apr 2014 19:00

'We want to do it for the supporters' - Davy Black

Clogher Valley coach David Black has vowed to make up for their All Ireland Junior Cup Final defeat by winning the Ulster Towns’ Cup for their supporters when they take on Donaghadee at Ravenhill on Easter Monday.

Social:

20 Apr 2014 15:00 • Julie Kenwell

Family ‘sick of thought’ of third round of heart surgery for Alfie

THE family of Bellanaleck toddler, Alfie Keys are nervously looking ahead to this September.

Social: Comments0 comments

20 Apr 2014 13:00 • Editorial Department

Trust identifies ‘extreme risks’ that could kill patients

Extreme risks have been identified by the Western Trust which could “compromise client safety” or even lead to “injury or death of patients or staff”.

Social: Comments0 comments