Nuala O'Faolain: supporter of Doolin project

The husband and wife team behind a new visitor centre at a cave in Doolin, Co Clare are to dedicate it to the late journalist and author Nuala O'Faolain when it opens next month.

Helen and John Browne hope the centre will allow them to grow visitor numbers to the Pol an Ionain cave, which houses the longest stalactite in the northern hemisphere.

The couple received planning permission for the new centre – which will house a café, shop and 30-space car park – last year despite stiff opposition from An Taisce and other groups.

They first opened the cave to the public in 2006, but have argued that their overall plans for the attraction would not be viable without onsite facilities.

Until now, visitors have been bussed to the site, about two miles from Doolin itself.

Helen Browne said the couple have invested some €1.5m overall in developing the cave as a tourist attraction, including putting in a shaft to access the stalactite and enlarging the cave passage. They first sought to open the cave to visitors in 1990.

"It's just another really important addition to the area. We've had huge local support from Doolin community," she said. "Before we bought the land, it was only potholers who could go down there to see the stalactite. You had to pull yourself along on your belly to get to it.

"Because of the sensitivity of the cave environment and our priority at all costs to protect the stalactite, numbers to the cave will be limited and capped at 55,000 annually.

"With the new onsite visitor centre and cafe more people will be able to enter the wild cave and witness the magnificence of the Great Stalactite within a truly wild and natural environment. They will also learn more about how the Burren region was formed by the tides of time and climate change."

O'Faolain, who died in 2008, was a longtime supporter of the project and a close family friend.

This has prompted the decision to name the centre in her honour, Browne said. The centre is due to be officially opened by RTE broadcaster Marian Finucane next month.