John and Helen Browne at Doolin Cave. Photograph by Eamon Ward

Caretakers Of The Cave

Proudly ‘Minding’ Doolin’s World Wonder

While many local businesses love the ownership that comes with running your own company, John and Helen Browne of Doolin Cave have a slightly different take on their professional passion. For several decades this local family has dedicated itself with love and commitment as ‘caretakers’ of North Clare’s incredible Doolin Cave and its mighty Great Stalactite: developing it into one of Ireland’s premier attractions.

“The Great Stalactite is a 350-million-year-old natural wonder and Europe’s largest stalactite. You don’t ‘own’ that! We may be the Cave proprietors, but we rather see our role as ‘minding’ a valuable and important miracle of nature and sharing its beauty with the world. We are custodians – here to care for the Cave and preserve it for generations to come. Work doesn’t get more satisfying than that!” says Helen Browne.


The history of Doolin Cave is one of exploration and discovery and of the incredible power of nature. The Great Stalactite was formed when ONE drop of water kept falling over hundreds of thousands of years to form one mighty, breath-taking wonder. In the 1990s, 40 years after its discovery, the Cave was mainly enjoyed by visiting potholers, but The Browne family was determined to celebrate the wonder of Doolin and bring it into the public eye. John and Helen purchased the Cave and the surrounding land and set about carefully and respectfully developing it for the world to enjoy.

Due to the delicate nature of the Great Stalactite, special care was taken to ensure the minimal amount of environmental disturbance. This meant the tunnels that were built during the Cave excavation were painstakingly dug out by hand, rather than with the use of explosives. The Cave was also enlarged so it could be open to the public, using the slow and laborious ‘plug and feather’ method of tunnelling. To protect the Great Stalactite, John and Helen had sensor equipment installed by Hull University in the UK – to protect its delicate structure from any erosion.

The project was a massive but rewarding labour of love, and John and Helen opened Doolin Cave to visitors in 2006.  Then, in 2010 a dedicated visitor centre was added to the site.

Today, the Cave is one of the most important eco-tourism attractions in Ireland. Measuring 6.725 metres (23 feet) in length, it is a truly authentic, natural experience that amazes and delights all who visit. For environmental reasons, numbers are limited to 20 per visit, with a cap of a total of 55,000 visitors each year.

John and Helen Browne at Doolin Cave. Photograph by Eamon Ward
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Long before the Browne family, Doolin Cave remained hidden until its chance discovery in 1952. This has always resonated with the Brownes:

“Doolin Cave shows us how elusive nature can be, unseen for so long. It’s been such an honour to bring this hidden beauty to life,” says John.

How exactly was the Cave discovered? A group of 12 explorers from the Craven Hill Potholing Club in North Yorkshire, UK, arrived in the small North Clare town of Lisdoonvarna. Named the ‘Whitsuntide Expedition’ because of the timing of their arrival, the group was eager for an adventure exploring the undocumented underworld of the Burren.

On the Whit Sunday, two of the men – Brian Varley and JM Dickenson – broke from the group to explore a cliff face. As they walked across the limestone pavements, they noticed a small stream that seemed to disappear beneath the large cliff. They followed the water, pulled back some boulders and dug their way into a narrow passageway. After crawling for about 500 metres, they arrived at the main chamber of the Cave and circled the great hall with their lamps. Slowly, the light picked out the mighty stalactite – over 30 feet in length and set majestically in the very centre of the Cave. The explorers described this epic moment in time:

“We tip-toed to the bottom of the chamber, not daring to speak lest the vibration of the first voices ever to sound in this hall since the beginning of time should cause it to shatter.”


Helen and John have dedicated themselves to proudly sharing Doolin Cave with visitors from near and far – a huge responsibility and reward in equal measure. In running the business, they are supported by their two daughters – Jennie who oversees operations, and Caireann who is the creator of the exclusive and much-loved Doolin Cave Pottery.

For more details on Doolin Cave contact (DETAILS)


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  • “Unique Stalactite and Tour; Well Worth It! This was an unexpected highlight of our stay in Doolin. We went to the cave more out of curiosity than anything else but ended up feeling like it was one of the highlights of our stay in County Clare. The introductory panels in the visitor’s center provided us with good background information that set us up well for the tour. Our tour guide was excellent from start to finish”

    eaglelake20 – NewYork

    – June, 2022

  • “Doolin Cave, just another Cave.. No! This Cave is exceptional, It’s the first time I’ve been awe struck and really felt like an explorer. I’ve been down many caves, but this one is the only one that touched my heart and caused me to have great respect for life and our living planet. The separation between the noisy commercial rat race and the serene peaceful heartbeat of the earth is very tangible. It certainly makes me believe in the Creator of Life.. please don’t miss the opportunity, make the opportunity it’s life lasting .”

    John O’ Regan – Google Review

    – June, 2023

  • “Fabulous experience, very interesting and informative tour. The cave is terrific and well maintained. The nature walk is beautiful. The coffee shop serves lovely coffee and scrumptious cakes. All the staff in the complex were very pleasant, helpful and efficient”

    Michael Macken – Google Review

    – May, 2023

  • “A fantastic experience. The tour takes place every hour and is carried out very professionally, personably and with a lot of humor. The descent is quite easy, but you should be prepared for numerous slightly wet and slippery steps. It is also very fresh in the cave. Therefore, dress sufficiently thickly and wear sturdy shoes. But the descent and the tour itself are breathtaking and absolutely worth the effort!”

    Philip A. – Google Review

    – June, 2023

  • “Spectacular! Cian our guide did a SUPER job. This is absolutely SPECTACULAR. I hadn’t read much about the caves so when we turned the corner and saw this amazing view – the stalactite, we were awe struck. Top spot in Clare for sure. Coffee n toastie at the coffee shop was yummy and the young ladies on duty were efficient professional and very friendly GOOD JOB!”

    Rita C – Dublin

    – June, 2023

  • “Wow, what can I say.. I’ll keep it brief. This was an absolute hidden gem in the Burren, and the highlight of our stay! Seeing the stalactite in all its glory was amazing. We believe it’s the largest in Europe, and quite staggering to find it in the tiny village of Doolin. The tour guide (apologies, forgot your name) was very informative and friendly. The tour itself was brilliant, and such a unique experience that we will never forget”


    – September, 2022

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