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Facing a quiet weekend at Aillwee Cave
Busier Times...Mark Mulqueeny, former head guide Carl Wright and Rita Guthrie attending the fortieth anniversary celebrations at Aillwee cave in Ballyvaughan back in 2016. photograph by John Kelly.

Facing a quiet weekend at Aillwee Cave

 

UPWARDS of 2,000 visitors would usually head to the Aillwee Cave and Birds of Prey Centre over a June bank holiday but it remains closed due to the Covid-19 restrictions.

Around half of the visitors to the famous attraction are overseas, so owner Nuala Mulqueeney is facing a big financial hit for the season. “Our annual figures are about 120,000 visitors. When extended travel is allowed in Ireland, we can expect some recovery, but you can forget about visitors from the US or countries; they won’t fly,” she said.

Only a handful of maintenance workers and two falconers who feed and exercise the birds have been at Aillwee since the lockdown in March.

“St Patrick’s weekend is always good for us and we lost out on that,” said owner Nuala Mulqueeney. While very disappointed that the facility is still closed, she said they have plans to ensure the safety of visitors when they do reopen on July 20.

“We will be able to manage; we have structures for social distancing and complying with hygiene regulations. The Birds of Prey show will be the easiest to deal with because it’s out in the open air. We’ll leave every second seat vacant and have more frequent demonstrations.

“The cave tours will be decreased, as will the number of people in parties from 25 down to 10. Where possible, we will keep it to a family or couples. The tour is on a one-way system so that it is a big help,” she said.

Nuala, who has been involved in the award winning Aillwee Cave enterprise since 1976 is chomping at the bit to get the operation going again.

“I’ve been here for 44 years, so it’s a big part of my life,” she said, adding that most people do not realise there are many dimensions to Aillwee, some of which are able to continue unaffected by the Covid-19 restrictions.

“The farm shop sells local produce and normally customers can have a look at the cheese-making process. That’s being done up while the place is closed but we have a new batch of cheese ready to sell.

“Aillwee as a brand is also contributing to the Burren Basket, which is a joint effort by food businesses in North Clare.

Nuala outlined how the Aillwee Cave Facebook presence has been enhanced during the lockdown. “We have visits to the barn owls and the falconers are using the latest technology to give close-up views of these beautiful birds and give interesting presentations. We’re getting a lot of hits on this,” she said.

Nuala also noted that while there are both separate and combined tickets available for the attractions, people can walk around Aillwee’s 26 acres of woodland for free and are very welcome to do so.

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