I was beginning to think Google had led me astray once again, as I approached the spot where it said Mitchelstown Cave was located. All I could see coming up was a regular farmhouse with a small sign outside that I couldn’t yet read. However, as I got closer the large parking area directly across from the house came into view, indicating that I might have been in the right place after all. Then a large signpost confirmed it!
Unlike a lot of the caves around Ireland, Michelstown Cave is privately owned, so you won’t find a visitor centre, shop or cafe here. You simply purchase tickets from a window at the side of the farmhouse and continue along the driveway to the cave entrance ahead.
I didn’t arrived at the cave until around 3.30pm and when I enquired about the possibility of joining a tour, I was informed the tours don’t go ahead without a minimum of two people. It was a pretty quiet day, well before peak season and according to the young girl at the window it had been a pretty quiet day, so she wasn’t sure it would be worth my while waiting.
I returned to the car and decided to hope for the best. The last tour of the day was going to be 4pm anyway, so it wouldn’t take long to figure out if I could get in or not. I text José complaining that I wouldn’t be in this position if he had come with me. Yes, he had to work, but still! However, I was in luck and not long afterwards a car pulled up with three German tourists. I may have scared them a little, pouncing on them as they got out of the car but they confirmed that they were indeed there to visit the cave, so I was in.
We took the short walk up the driveway to meet our guide near the entrance to the cave. As you wait you can take in the stunning view towards the Galtee Mountains or read up on the incredible history of the cave, within the sheltered area provided. When our guide arrived we approached the entrance, which she pointed out was still at the same position where the cave was first discovered in 1833 by Micheal Condon. He dropped a crowbar between the limestone rocks and got quite the surprise when he moved some of the rocks to retrieve it. However, unlike when Micheal first explored the cave, there are thankfully now 90 concrete steps to help lead you in to the caves and lighting so you don’t have to worry about setting yourself on fire with your lamp or candle as you try climb down a rope ladder!
The cave is 3kms long and 300m deep and is one of the most complex cave systems in Ireland. On the tour you will go 1km into the cave and 200m deep. You’ll visit three caverns and see some excellent examples of stalactites and stalagmites, including the “Tower of Babel”, one of the finest columns in Europe, standing at 9 metres tall.
The temperature inside the cave stays at a pleasant twelve degrees all year round. Though it wasn’t raining at the time of our visit it was quite drippy inside the cave and our guide explained that it takes 2 weeks for the rainwater to filter down into the cave from the ground above. The water is totally pure and at a temperature of four degrees, which is the temperature that water is bottled at. Bring your refillable bottles!
Tours have been taking place in Mitchelstown Cave since it was first discovered in 1833 but up until the 60s the tours were a lot more adventurous. They included a trip down what is known as ‘The Chimney’, a narrow passageway down to the lower depths with only candlelight to guide the way. Thanks to today’s strict health and safety regulations this is no longer a possibility, so you’ll have to be content to just have a peek down ‘The Chimney’ instead.
In the 70s, the owner at the time, Jackie English, set about making the caves more accessible. He completed the work along with another local man and it took them seven years. It was very slow and tedious work, given that they could only get the concrete down one bucket at a time! Thanks to their hard work, the cave can now be enjoyed by a lot more people.
Visiting the cave is definitely a fascinating experience and apart from regular tours, a number of concerts and masses have been held over the years. I got a small taster of how good the acoustics are inside the largest cavern when the German couple broke out into song for us and I could only imagine how amazing it would be with a full choir or orchestra inside. Our guide did point out there are a couple of instruments that are banned however, as they would actually cause damage inside the cave.
Other events that have been held inside the cave include a movie screening and sushi night. So if you’re on the lookout for something different, keep an eye on the Mitchelstown Cave website for upcoming events. I know I will be!
Swiss Cottage, Cahir – 20 minutes
Rock of Cashel – 30 minutes