I JUST wish my old Geography teacher Mr Boyd was there to witness me extract an encyclopaedic knowledge of limestone and rock formations, while on a guided tour of the mind-blowing Aillwee Cave and Birds of Prey Centre, in County Clare.
As Gearóid took us deep under the rocky mountain through the meandering and undulating caves, all of the terminology I had learned in Mr Boyd’s class over three decades ago came flooding back — much to my wife and daughters’ shock.
For €68, a family of four can walk 1km along the other-worldly terrain, under low-lying rocks and along a manmade trail — broken up by the guide stopping at seven strategic spots to tell us more yarns about Farmer McGann, who discovered the cave in the ‘40s while looking for his dog, as well as the stories surrounding the subsequent digs and excavations by experts.
Weirdly-intact bear bones, movie-like waterfalls, dark bat caves, impressive projected light shows and a whole host of geological wonders are part of the 45-minute tour that left all four members of Team Keany in awe.
The inquisitive girls had a whole series of questions for our young guide, but nothing was too difficult for him as he rattled off well-informed answers. The walk itself is still as easy as it always was. But 30 years on from my last visit, I found myself having to duck under giant boulders a lot more frequently. There are a few inclines and declines along the way but you never feel unsafe thanks to the barriers installed to hold on to.
And since the pandemic, the powers that be have also decided to extend the tour through what was traditionally a tradesmen’s tunnel, which means you no longer have to double back once you’ve reached the end.
The new loop means that the final stretch of the tour is a simple and flat walk along a 500m stretch of cave, which was created with dynamite years ago. While that section lacks the limestone formations that make the Aillwee Cave so popular with tourists and Irish people, it is still an amazing finish to the tour.
The biggest change to the tour is the addition of the company’s Birds of Prey Centre at the bottom of the hill. For your entrance fee up above at the cave you also get access to the 45-minute exhibition of wild birds.
Falcons, eagles and even an adorable barn owl named Jess were coaxed out of their habitats, performing amazing flying displays for over 50 enthralled spectators dotted around the arena.
As Batty the eagle swooped in and around us in the stands, we got up close and personal with the magnificent bird. My eldest, Chloe, was even plucked out of the audience to hold the owl at one point.
Once the show is over, you can take your time to wander around the aviaries and take a proper look at some of the most incredible birds on the planet.
There is a brilliant (and reasonably priced) gift shop too, which was obviously tapped up before we left.
It’s a 2.5-hour drive from Dublin, which is a long way to go for a few hours. But I genuinely think it is worth it. We chose to stay in Ennistymon on the Saturday night to make a weekend of it but you are blessed with a whole host of picture-postcard towns and villages around the area to stay.
Doolin, Lahinch, Lisdoonvarna, Kinvara, Ballyvaughan, Kilfenora, Corofin and our choice, Ennistymon, are all within 30 minutes of the world-famous cave.
Tourists flock to the region in their hundreds of thousands each year but why don’t domestic tourists do the same?
As we headed back east after an all-too-short 24 hours in County Clare, we promised each other that it most certainly would not be another three decades before we returned.
AILLWEE CAVE, CO CLARE See aillweeburrenexperience.ie
Tickets cost €14 for children, €24 for adults and €22 for students/seniors.
A family of four ticket is just €68 with a two-adult-four-children ticket for €88. Group discounts are available all year around.
Entry fee includes the Birds of Prey Centre where there are four daily shows at 11.30am, 1.30pm, 3.30pm and 5pm.