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Marble Arch Caves

The Marble Arch Caves are a series of natural, limestone caves located near the village of Florencecourt in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. They run under the Cuilcagh mountains. The caves were first explored by Édouard-Alfred Martel in 1895, using candles and magnesium flares for light. In 1935, with superior equipment, an English group of cavers called the Yorkshire Ramblers explored further and discovered more chambers.

The Marble Arch Caves are a popular tourist attraction due to their accessibility and grandeur. The caves were opened to the public in 1985 following work to make them more accessible the previous year. Tourists can partake in a seventy-five minute long tour of the show caves during which they travel through the first part of the caves in a specially designed boat floating on the subterranaen Cladagh River, before walking through the rest of the chambers.

The caves and the nearby Cuilcagh Mountain Park became a part of the UNESCO Geoparks scheme in 2004 under the name Marble Arch Caves European Geopark ; this allocation was due in part to the existence of the caves themselves and also the rare blanket bog which covers a vast area of the mountains.

The cutting of turf has led to damage in the area. Extensive drainage in parts of the bog has damaged the bog’s ability to retain water, resulting in flooding and abnormally high water levels in the caves downstream. This has impeded tourist activity in the past. As a protective measure, people have been employed to protect the land around the caves to ensure no further damage ensues.

Another problem is that human interference can cause the limestone to be damaged and erode away. In a particular case in 1984, a group of vandals broke into the showcaves before they were opened to the public and threw stones at any of the formations that could be seen around the entrance. Many small stalactites were snapped off at their bases while the tip of the largest stalactite (over 2 metres in length) within the showcaves was broken off. This tip fell onto a sandbank on the cave floor where it was retrieved the next day by a workman. It was then sent to the Ulster Museum in Belfast where a calcite resin was specially produced and subsequently used to stick the tip back onto its original position. This formation can be seen at the end of the tour of the showcaves.

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