Pol an Ionain (or Poll-an-Ionain) is a limestone cave near Doolin in County Clare, on the western edge of The Burren. The cave is accessible as a show cave and is marketed as Doolin Cave. There has been considerable controversy as to the development of the show cave.
The Great Stalactite:
The cave’s most notable feature is the Great Stalactite. This is one of the world’s longest known free-hanging stalactites, reported to be 7.3 m (24 ft) in length. This figure is a matter of some confusion, however, as it is also variously described as being 11 m, 6.2 m and 6.54 m. It is the longest known free-hanging stalactite in Western Europe, the three largest in the world being located in two caves in Mexico, and one in Jeita Grotto, Lebanon.
“Pol an Ionain” is the anglicised version of the Irish name Poll an Eidhneáin, which is said to translate into “Ivy Cliff Cave”.
The cave was discovered in 1952 by J. M. Dickenson and Brian Varley of Craven Pothole Club, an English caving club based in the Yorkshire Dales. The cave quickly became a classic caving trip for visiting cavers. Entry was arduous, requiring a long, difficult crawl.
In 1990, the land, on which the cave is located, was purchased by John and Helen Browne. The couple immediately embarked on an effort to develop the cave as a show cave. This provoked a reaction from the Speleological Union of Ireland who feared the 30-metre (98 ft) shaft that would have to be blasted to access the cave would damage the stalactite. They also obected to the fact that the caving trip would be lost to cavers and that the cave was a short artificial trip with only one feature. After an extended period of court proceedings, financing and development, the cave was opened to the public as a show cave in 2006, subject to the conditions of not having a visitor centre on site and restricting visitor numbers. No blasting was allowed to construct the entrance shaft. The developers instead used as system whereby a hole was drilled and an air expander placed in the hole to break the rock. Visitors to the cave must be taken from Doolin village by bus to the site where there are no surface installations.
In 2009 the cave owners made a planning application (their fifth in almost twenty years) to build a visitor center on site citing the limitations of having to transport people to the site by bus. Some 12,000 people visit the cave every year, well below the number required to break even.
The development of Pol an Ionain has been criticised for being environmentally damaging and for being devoid of any features beside the Great Stalactite.