As a last hurrah during the Easter holidays we visited Aillwee Caves in co.Clare (obvs the best county in Ireland). It was just under 2 hours from us here in the Midlands situated on the Wild Atlantic Way.
So as you probably know by now I am ALL about the cafe facilities. My first observation is that the ‘cafe’ on the caves complex is actually just 4 tables in the gift shop. Not big enough for anyone other than small families or couples. Its not really young children friendly at all, as its smushed in a corner with people coming in and out and a shop surrounding you and tours being called for every 15 minutes or so. I would recommend packing a picnic and snacks and visiting on a sunny day to avail of the picnic benches outside if you like to have more space. We stopped for tea’s/coffees while waiting for our tour and it was a bit dicey at times with all the kiddos!
Heres some of us, there wasnt enough zoom out on the camera and space to get all of us and the sign in the photo. #bigfamilyproblems (also I look dead behind the eyes here #tiredmumproblems)
Once we went through and started the tour though it was great. Amelie was really unsure at first as in “noooo i dont want to go” because you walk through a metal door and straight into a pretty dark tunnel, but she was fine with someone holding her hand and got over it quite quickly. I will say that I had not prepared the kids for how dark it would be, I just assumed they would have it really well lit which wasnt always the case. If I was on my parenting A game I would have given a little pep talk along the lines of ‘its going to be dark, its going to be small, it might be a bit scary’ – given attributes of caves that clearly my kids didn’t pick up on.
The tour guide stops and tells you about the different sections of the cave and its not that claustrophobic, I was actually worried about that as I don’t like being in a place where I cant see a way out (apart from Ikea which weirdly I love), but actually it was fine. I made it round ok in slightly heeled boots but trainers/sturdy shoes are the way to go – also as headroom is pretty low I’d say you would struggle with a little one in a backpack carrier but a front sling would be grand.
The caves are millions of years old and were discovered by a farmer back in the 40s’. At least I think thats right. It was kind of hard to listen and child wrangle at times!. There was one section in the caves where the guide turned all of the lights off to highlight a particular area by torch and again turned off all of the lights to demonstrate just how dark the cave’s are. This was full on petrifying. I think Mr Clev was hoping it was the start to zombie apocalypse a’la walking dead, or some sort of horror experience because he loves that sort of stuff. I hated it but held on to Luis the entire time (who also pooped himself) and after what seemed like a lifetime she turned the lights back on and we were all fine and not a zombie in sight. There was fair warning of the switch off so it wasn’t completely unexpected. The dark bit was Maxi’s favourite part, and he loved the general sense of adventure of running (despite the no running rule) through the cave path, so I guess it totally depends on the child if its a fun/educational experience or a slightly out of comfort zone one.
The main cave itself with the giant waterfall was fascinating and really quite spectacular. The cave a flooded over the winter with all the rain so the waterfall was huge and it was very very damp and atmospheric. This part was really well lit too. It was at this point that my camera lens cap decided to go for a swim 40 foot down the cave. Not sure what that will do to the eco system but if theres some kind of chemical deficient problem with Aillwee caves in 70 thousand years caused by a black lump of plastic you can blame me! I loved all the crystallisation of the rocks and found the waterfall so calming. Watching the water flow was mesmerising. I took this video as a ‘stock video’ for website backgrounds but liked it so much I thought i’d share here too!
Aillwee had been on our list of things to do for ages but for a stand alone day trip I wouldn’t bother going again. They are really missing a trick with a dedicated tea room or restaurant on site. In fairness we didn’t do the birds of prey exhibits there because it was peeing down with rain (and it also costs extra on top of the €30 entry). We asked if there was a tea room only to be told that the farm shop did teas and sandwiches – turns out that literally means tea in take away cups, and take away sandwiches. Again, not ideal. I’d say this place comes into its own more in the Summer, and apparently at Christmas its just magical with a Santa and grotto. For anyone thinking of visiting my advice would be to combine this with a trip to the Cliffs of Moher which are fabulous and also let you go at your own pace. They are only a further 30 minutes along the road and theres a lovely cafe there and a more interactive exhibition. If you are interested in the caves then its a must see but the surrounding stuff has a 90s vibe to it (not in a retro way either). You could also stop off in Kinvara if you are headed back towards Galway as thats a lovely little town and the Castle there is a good visit for a few hours. Perhaps in the summer when the birds of prey are on it’s more of a full day trip.
There are 7 of us in this photo I promise!!
Lucky for us we were meeting a friend for our cave trip, so our visit to Aillwee had the excitement of seeing him too. We were able to head into Ballyvaughn for a lunch and catch up as if we had travelled 2 hours just to see caves we would have been miffed. All in all I am glad we went, and the kids certainly enjoyed it. Another check off the ‘places we want to visit in Ireland’ list done anyway!! Now I just have to work out where to go to next, as always any suggestions please share on my Facebook page.