A Geopark is an area with really special rocks and landscapes. These may be special because they are good for education, or because they are of great scientific value. They may also be special because the rocks and landscapes are very rare, or simply because they are exceptionally beautiful.
Geoparks aren’t just about rocks and landscapes though, they also include places that have important history and archaeology, fascinating plants and wildlife, and often intriguing folklore. After all, many of these are intimately linked with the ground beneath our feet.
About the Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark
United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) endorsed Geopark status was first awarded to the Marble Arch Caves and adjoining Cuilcagh Mountain Park in 2001 and since this time the Geopark has expanded rapidly from these two original sites.
In 2007 and 2008, the Geopark underwent two phases of expansion first into public access lands in west Fermanagh and secondly into west Cavan making the Geopark not only one of the largest in the world but, also the first cross-border Geopark in the world. In 2015 UNESCO officially recognised the Global Geoparks Programme, Creating Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark.
The Geopark now stretches from the northern shores of Lower Lough Erne in County Fermanagh to Lough Oughter in County Cavan. The Geopark is jointly managed by Fermanagh & Omagh District Council and Cavan County Council.
Education and Fieldwork Opportunities
1. Primary & Post-Primary
The Geopark offers many environmental educational packages including site specific packages for both primary and post-primary school pupils. A number of workbooks and guided education programmes are on offer for primary and post-primary school pupils. These are delivered at the Marble Arch Caves Visitor Centre, Cuilcagh Mountain Park or at the Cavan Burren Park. Key curriculum components covered focus on the topics of geology, biodiversity, archaeology and history.
Indeed, specific programmes can be tailored to suit individual needs upon request. An Earth Science Education Field Guide is available for Leaving Certificate and AS/A2 level Geography teachers. This is a self-led study guide with information on sites to visit and the features of interest within them.
For primary school pupils Earth science workshops are organised as part of Science Week every March and November. Training courses are also offered for both primary and post-primary teachers in how to teach Earth science more effectively.
Education Activities and learning areas
• Cave Tours
• Woodland and Habitat Studies
• Vegetation Studies
• Sustainable Tourism
• Glacial Processes
• Rock Cycle and Resources
• Sustainable Living
2. Tertiary Education & Lifelong Learning
The Geopark has produced a booklet with information on areas of study within the Geopark. The Geopark employs a Geologist and Education Officer whom are both on hand to provide information prior to or during a visit. Where possible, programmes can be tailored to suit individual requests. A number of university accredited courses are offered within the Geopark.
Geopark staff members can carry out visits to schools and also organise special education events at various times throughout the year.
The Marble Arch Caves’ natural underworld
Marble Arch Caves are one of Europe’s finest showcaves allowing visitors to explore a fascinating, natural underworld of rivers, winding passages and lofty chambers.
Lively and informative guides conduct tours past a bewildering variety of cave formations. Stalactites glisten above streamways and chambers, while fragile mineral veils and cascades of creamy calcite coat walls and create shimmering terraces.
Spectacular walkways allow easy access while powerful lighting reveals the stunning beauty and grandeur of the caves. Electrically powered boats glide through huge caverns carrying visitors along a subterranean river. Tours last for 75 minutes and are suitable for people of any age and of average fitness. Comfortable walking shoes and a warm sweater are recommended.
Marble Arch Caves are open daily from March until October with guided tours operating every 20 minutes from 10:00am until 4:30pm (5:00pm in July and August)’. It’s advisable to phone to ensure that you can be accommodated and to check the availability of tours as the caves can be affected by heavy rain.
Marble Arch Caves are located in a National Nature Reserve in the shadows of Cuilcagh Mountain and have coach and car parking, toilets and baby changing facilities, souvenir shop, restaurant, exhibition area, free audio-visual presentation and free WiFi. Education packages are available for school children and for those interested in lifelong learning. An events programme is delivered throughout the year.
Cuilcagh Mountain Park
Cuilcagh Mountain and the Marlbank area provides some of the most spectacular scenery in Fermanagh.
At 665m, Cuilcagh is the highest point in Fermanagh, and the only true mountain. Its distinctive table-top profile is easily identified across the region and forms the focus of an area rich in geology, archaeology, folklore, flora and fauna. The mountain itself is topped by gritstone, exposed in places as dramatic cliffs sweeping down to the lower sandstone and shale slopes.
The middle slopes of Cuilcagh Mountain are covered with a thick layer of peat and form one of the best examples of a blanket bog ecosystem in the north of Ireland. The lower slopes of Cuilcagh Mountain are formed of limestone with its associated (karst) landforms and complex cave systems.