I’d never even heard of Dunmore Cave before I found it on the Heritage Ireland website when researching for our trip to Kilkenny. And if we’re going full disclosure, caves are one of those things that I tend not to get too excited about. I can’t even tell you why because I’ve gone to a lot and I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad cave experience! It’s obviously some weird glitch in my system. Like the way you think toast is boring and then get a whiff of it and remember how good it is. I’m not alone there right?! Anyway, after visiting Dunmore cave and I can confirm that this hidden gem is really fascinating and well worth a visit.
While Dunmore Cave is not particularly large, it contains a number of chambers and is rare in that it was formed by glacial meltwaters. It also contains a pretty impressive collection of stalagmites, stalactites and other calcite formations for your viewing pleasure! The largest of these is known as the Market Cross and is over 19ft high.
I’ll intervene here with a quick word of warning for those with a fear of bats! There are bats living inside the cave. However they’re generally in the deeper parts of the cave that you won’t be accessing and of course they’re sleeping during the day anyway, so really you don’t have to worry about them!
The Viking Massacre at Dunmore Cave
And trust me, once you have descended the steep steps into the cave, it’s not a fear of bats or the actual darkness that will give you the chills anyway. These will come from the stories that your guide will share about the caves dark past. Historical documents describe a Viking massacre at the cave in 928 A.D. resulting in the death of up to 1,000 people. The story goes that having arrived in the area, the Vikings discovered that a large number of people were hiding in the cave. Hoping to capture them as slaves, they lit a number of large fires at the mouth of the cave to force them out. Instead, the fires were so large they used up all the oxygen in the cave, causing those inside to suffocate.
Whether or not the numbers are correct, findings of human remains over the years have confirmed that people did indeed meet their end inside the depths of the cave. As recently as 1973, the remains of 44 bodies, mainly women and children, were found. See, chills!
Archeological Finds at the Cave
A less gruesome finding was in 1999, when Viking treasure was discovered in the cave by one of the tour guides. The cave was subsequently closed for some time for archeological work. Some of the items recovered from this significant find can be seen in the visitor centre. Archeologists dated the find to 970 AD, a sure sign that Vikings returned to the cave following the massacre. It’s not known why the items were left behind. Whether it was for safe keeping and the owner was killed and therefore unable to return, or whether it was an offering to the gods, I guess we’ll never know.
For opening times and pricing at Dunmore Cave, check out the Heritage Ireland website.