Discovery

Mitchelstown Caves was discovered on the 3rd of May 1833, by Michael Condon who was quarrying limestone when he accidentally dropped his crowbar into a crevice. He stooped down to pull out a few boulders to retrieve the bar, next minute he found himself looking down into a vast series of underground chambers, passages and caverns.

 

Exploration

Michael was determined to explore his discovery, accompanied by two boys named Sheely, using only candles, a rope and a burning turf tied to a string to judge depths of crevasses, they cautiously entered the cave. After spending hours exploring, the cave turned out to be far bigger than they were expecting and in attempting to return to the safety of the entrance their candles burned out leaving them in complete darkness for twelve hours before the father of the two boys found them. This is how this astonishing phenomenon of nature was discovered, which might otherwise have remained unknown forever.

 Tours since 1833

After the discovery in 1833 news of the find quickly spread with large numbers of curious sightseers coming to visit the natural wonder. In order to preserve the caves natural state, guided tours were organised. Generations of the Mulcahy and later the English family, who lived at the farmhouse at the cave entrance acted as guides and conducted tours through the network of passageways by candlelight. This might sound terribly romantic and adventurous, but it was hardly for the faint hearted.

Explorers

In 1834 The Royal Geological Society invited Dr James Apjohn, Professor of Geology at Trinity College, Dublin and engineer Thomas Kearney to carry out the first survey of the Mitchelstown Cave. Even with basic equipment, the map they produced proved to be very accurate and has since formed the basis of all future surveys.

The cave has subsequently attracted a large number of eminent explorers and scientists including Alexander Henry Haliday the Irish botanist who explored the cave in 1857. Haliday gained fame in 1837 when he received insects collected by Charles Darwin on HMS Beagle which explored the coasts of South America. The Darwin Insects are now in The National Museum of Ireland.

It wasn’t until the end of the nineteenth century that exploration of caves became a distinct area of study. This is largely due to the underground exploits of the Frenchman A.E Martel. Martel was the most famous cave explorer of his day and is still regarded by many as the ‘father of Speleology’ (study of caves). In 1895 he founded the Society of Speleology the first organisation in the world devoted to the scientific study of caves. It was in 1895 that Martel explored Mitchelstown Cave.

In 1908 members of the Yorkshire Ramblers Caving Club accompanied by Ireland’s most famous naturalist’s and first president of the Irish Mountaineering Club Robert Llyod Praeger carried out the first complete survey of Mitchelstown Cave.

In the early 1930’s Mitchelstown Cave was visited by one of Ireland’s leading cave explorers the Cork man J.C Coleman. Over a period of three decades he studied and explored Mitchelstown Cave. After his death a cavern in the cave was named ‘Coleman’s Gallery in his honour. Coleman began cave exploring in 1933 initially exploring caves within cycling distance from his home. In 1964 he founded the Speleological Society of Ireland. He published his work widely and contributed to many scientific journals. His book “Caves of Ireland” was the first publication to describe cave sites throughout Ireland.

Development

In the early 1960’s the decision was taken to develop the cave in order to make access easier. Electricity and footpaths were installed and completed by 1972, making it the first show cave in Ireland developed for the public. During development great care was taken to retain the character and natural beauty of the cave and environs and let nature speak for itself.