The award-winning Marble Arch Caves – one of Europe’s finest show caves nestled in the heart of the Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark in Co. Fermanagh – will reopen for guided tours from Monday 24 May 2021 following the gradual easing of lockdown restrictions.
From 24 May visitors can enter a world of subterranean rivers, winding passages, lofty chambers and an array of spectacular cave formations by pre-booking a cave tour on the Marble Arch Caves website or by contacting the visitor centre directly.
With hand sanitising stations, directional signage, pre-booking and numbers limited for tours, visitors will have the time and space to enjoy the stunning million-year-old cave network and appreciate why it is the most active river cave in the UK and Ireland.
Chair of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, Councillor Diana Armstrong, said:
“The reopening of the Marble Arch Caves is another welcome step as we move into the summer holiday period.
The team has worked hard to ensure that people feel safe and comfortable when they visit so they can enjoy the truly awe-inspiring experience when in the depths of the 94 metre below ground cave network.
We are incredibly fortunate to have a world class tourism product on our doorstep in Fermanagh and Omagh. The Fermanagh and Omagh district is the perfect place to enjoy a staycation this summer with its stunning landscapes and spectacular waterways, rich built and cultural heritage as well as a fantastic retail and hospitality offering.”
At just over 7 miles long, the million-year-old Marble Arch Caves is the longest cave network in Northern Ireland.
The Marble Arch Caves Visitor Centre has already reopened, with outdoor family activities and guided walks now on offer and available to book. Toilet and take away café facilities are also open.
The 4-star Tourism NI visitor attraction is also marking the world’s first ‘International Year of Caves and Karst’ (IYCK) by hosting a number of special events and activities throughout the year.
The next free event “Caves and Karst of the Marble Arch Caves and other UNESCO Global Geoparks” takes place online on 27 May 2021 with guest speaker, Dr Kirstin Lemon of the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland.
Guided cave tours, outdoor family activities and guided walks and IYCK events and activities are all available to book via the Marble Arch Caves website at www.marblearchcaves.co.uk or by telephoning 028 6632 1815.
Guided cave tours sell out fast with people encouraged to book in advance to avoid disappointment.
Visitor Pledge to Support Tourism Now Open
Economy Minister Diane Dodds has launched a new visitor pledge to encourage safe and responsible tourism across Northern Ireland while supporting local businesses.
Hosted on the Discover Northern Ireland website, visitors are asked to show their support by signing up to the pledge and committing to the three core guidelines: Take Care of Each Other, Take Care of the Land, and Take Care of Local Businesses.
By taking the pledge, visitors are promising to take small steps that will make a giant difference to how we all enjoy and benefit from the many tourism experiences, local businesses and great outdoors across Northern Ireland.
Visitors are being asked to look out for each other by acting safely, to take care of the beautiful landscape by leaving no trace, and to show support for local businesses and the safety procedures they have in place.
The pledge also provides industry with assets to promote both in their business premises and online to encourage visitors to follow the guidelines.
Commenting on the visitor pledge Economy Minister Diane Dodds said: “These are challenging times for businesses so we welcome initiatives like the visitor pledge that encourages people to safely enjoy all that Northern Ireland has to offer. With the visitor pledge, we can all play a vital role in promoting safe and responsible tourism by committing to take care of each other, our beautiful outdoors and local businesses.”
Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots, added: “Northern Ireland has wonderful landscapes for all to enjoy, from our mountains to our seas and from our forests to our beaches. Our landscapes support local foods and local businesses and play a vital role in our tourism and for our communities health and wellbeing. We all must play our part in looking after these assets. Taking part in the visitor pledge will help to support local businesses and will help ensure that our environment remains clean, safe and vibrant for all users.”
Director of Marketing at Tourism Northern Ireland Naomi Waite commented: “The launch of the visitor pledge will help to boost consumer confidence by setting out simple steps that we can all take together to make a difference. Whether it is social distancing, cleaning up litter after enjoying the outdoors or shopping local, I encourage all residents to take the pledge to support local businesses and our local environment.
“This has been a challenging time for the tourism industry in Northern Ireland, but our local businesses, our unique tourism and experience providers are ready to offer their giant welcome again. This is a fantastic way for people to show their support. It is important of all of us to play our part in protecting each other and embracing all that Northern Ireland has to offer in a safe way.”
The website asks visitors to sign their name online to take the pledge and share with friends and family via their social media channels.
To learn more about the visitor pledge and to sign up, or download assets visit https://discovernorthernireland.com/giantdifference
Marie Heaney Launches Seamus Heaney HomePlace ‘Open Ground’
Marie Heaney, together with the Chair of Mid Ulster District Council, Councillor Cathal Mallaghan, have officially launched a new outdoor visitor experience which for the first time brings Seamus Heaney’s literature into the landscape of South Derry which so inspired him.
Seamus Heaney HomePlace ‘Open Ground’ is a series of 5 locations, all of which held a significance for the poet, from the Strand at Lough Beg to the banks of the Moyola River.
Seamus Heaney’s poetry is not only visible in each place where interpretation panels explain the literary connections, but also audible with the poet’s own voice heard via listening posts on site, as well as via a dedicated Open Ground App, with elements of augmented reality adding a new dimension to the experience.
Open Ground has been developed by Mid Ulster District Council which manages Seamus Heaney HomePlace, with funding from DAERA, and represents an overall investment of £750K.
The Strand at Lough Beg, a place of ‘special memories’ for Seamus Heaney, has been made accessible to visitors for the first time.
A newly constructed boardwalk leads to a woodland pathway which gently opens out into a clearing with uninterrupted views across Lough Beg to ‘Church Island and its soft outline of yew’.
A riverside walk along the Moyola River, where Seamus Heaney walked, fished and thought, is now also more accessible to visitors who can meander alongside those same river banks, retracing the steps of the poet who was ‘at home on the water in all sorts of ways’.
Sculpture is at the heart of the remaining three locations, with a tall, steel structure at the Eelworks in Toome, symbolising the twists and turns of eels as they swim, and reflecting the poet’s fascination with both the lifecycle of eels and the fishermen who trapped them.
An alleyway in Magherafelt is now home to the sculpted silhouettes of people walking towards the town’s bus station which featured in Heaney’s poetry, with the ‘agitated rooks’ from ‘Route 110’, the poem which takes its title from the number of a local bus, flying just above their heads.
The existing Turfman sculpture in Bellaghy has benefited from an extended and freshly landscaped seating area, creating a new space for visitors to contemplate both the art piece and lines from ‘Digging’, one of Seamus Heaney’s most well-known poems.
Speaking at the launch, Chair of the Council, Councillor Cathal Mallaghan, said:
“This is a truly unique development which brings Seamus Heaney’s poetry alive in the places which were so much a part of his formative years and had such an influence on the body of work which brought him literature’s highest accolade – the Nobel Prize.
“If you read Seamus Heaney’s speech from the day on which he became a Nobel Laureate, you will be left in no doubt about his roots being in South Derry and their significance on his journey from his home in the ‘traditional thatched farmstead’ to the stage on Stockholm.
“I consider it an honour to be launching Open Ground and to celebrate further the man, his work and his deep connections to this area”.
Chris Heaney, speaking on behalf of the Heaney family, said:
“The names of the locations that make up this particular open ground – Bellaghy, Magherafelt, Toome, Moyola, Lough Beg – are familiar to people from this locale but they have also become familiar to readers of my father’s poetry throughout the world. The development of five sites linked to different poems was a great idea from the start and there is something special and genuinely powerful hearing the poems read in their own “home places”.
Director of Rural Affairs at DAERA, Paul Donnelly said:
“Tourism has the potential to create jobs and opportunities for our rural communities and economy and I am delighted that we have invested £471k from our Rural Tourism Scheme into the Heaney Open Ground Experience. This project will highlight the literacy significance of the sites in the life story of Seamus Heaney and in doing so will hopefully attract more people to visit the area and stay longer.”
This project was part funded under Priority 6 (LEADER) of the Northern Ireland Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and the European Union, with contributions also via DAERA’s Environmental Challenge Fund, Department for Infrastructure and the Lough Neagh Partnership.
For further information visit www.seamusheaneyhome.com