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In 1952, a group of explorers arrived into Lisdoonvarna, a small town in the north of County Clare situated 5.4 kilometres from the current entrance to Doolin Cave. These men were uncertain of what they might find but were excited by the prospect of journeying beneath the undocumented underworld of the Burren. Named the ‘Whitsuntide Expedition’ because they arrived on the Whit or June Bank Holiday weekend, these intrepid adventurers had little idea that members of their team would stumble upon Doolin Cave.

The group of 12 men, mostly students, were part of an expedition sent by the Craven Hill Potholing Club from the Yorkshire Dales in Great Britain. Nine of the 12 stayed in the Irish Arms Hotel in Lisdoonvarana and three camped on a nearby hillside.

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On that Whit Sunday, two of the men who had camped out, Brian Varley and J.M. Dickenson, broke from the group and decided to go exploring near a cliff face they had seen the previous day. As they made their way across the limestone pavements, they noticed a small stream that seemed to disappear beneath the large cliff.

Following the water, they pulled back some boulders and dug their way into a narrow passageway and then crawled for about 500 metres, eventually reaching the main chamber of the cave. This crawl has been described by other potholers that have visited the cave as being a “knee wrecking and miserable crawl”. Arriving at the main chamber of the cave, the men described what they had seen.

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a gigantic discovery

“Scrambling over boulders, we stood speechless in a large chamber, of ample width, length and impressive height. As our lamps circled this great hall we picked out a gigantic stalactite, certainly over 30 feet in length, the only formation in the chamber and set proudly in the very centre. It is really majestic and poised like the veritable sword of Damocles. With our headlamps inadequately flood lighting this huge formation we tip toed-believe it or not! 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.”

Upon leaving the site, the men decided to pretend the others in the group that they had found nothing as a joke, but were unable to contain their excitement. Instead, when they met them, they jumped in the air shaking their fists recounting the tale of their discovery.


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On Sunday 5th June 2022, Doolin Cave celebrated its 70th anniversary, marking 7 decades after its discovery by cavers, Brian Varley and Mike Dickenson in 1952.

Unveiling a commemorative plaque, Helen & John Browne, caretakers of Doolin Cave Visitor Centre, presented Brian Varley with the plaque which is dedicated to both Brian and Mike to honour their hard work which led to the great discovery.


  • “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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