This unique and interesting series of caverns in the limestone hills near Kilkenny City was designated as a national monument in 1940, but has been known to man since at least the 9th century and formed over a period of perhaps millions of years. It stands on Castlecomer plateau above the Dinin River Valley and contains some of the largest and most widely recognized calcite formations in all of Europe and certainly in all of Ireland.
To fully experience Dunmore Cave, a guided tour is available and highly recommended. The tour will take you down 706 steep stairs to the three main chambers of the cave, and there are many other smaller chambers to explore. The caverns contain evidence of nearly 3,500 years of inhabitants. Amid the stalagmites and stalactites, you’ll see the huge dripstone known as the Market Cross, which is 21 feet tall and the largest formation of its kind in all of Europe. The chamber that surrounds the Market Cross is known as the Town Hall, and its calcite walls are a brilliant, snowy white.
As you descend beneath the surface of the earth and enter the cave, you’ll notice the gradual decline in vegetation due to the growing darkness below. The cave did, at one point, support bat life in the form of a huge colony, but now all that is visible are the calcified skeleton bats of the past.
The chronicles of the rich history of Dunmore cave begin in the Irish annals in the early 9th century, with the story of massive Viking raids that took many of the lives of the people hiding within the cave. It was called ‘Dearc Fearna’, or Cave of the Alders” and described as a fearful dark place likened to a huge beast.
Today’s visitors benefit from the large interpretive center that tells the history of the cave using interactive exhibits that feature treasures and remains discovered within, including the gruesome discovery of the remains of 44 women and children who may have suffocated during the Viking massacre of 928 A.D. In 1999, a treasure trove of Viking coins and jewelry were found and displayed at the National Museum in Dublin.