Discover The Geopark
Cuilcagh Mountain Park
Cuilcagh Mountain Park takes in 2500 hectares on the northern slopes of Cuilcagh Mountain, at the heart of the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. Cuilcagh Mountain Park was founded in 1998 with assistance from the European Union’s LIFE Peatlands Project and the Heritage Lottery Fund, to restore damaged peatland, to conserve pristine blanket bog and to increase awareness of bogland habitats and wildlife. At 665 metres (2188 feet) above sea level, Cuilcagh is the highest point and the only true mountain in this part of the island of Ireland
The base of Cuilcagh Mountain is formed from limestone, as you walk up the mountain track towards the summit, the rocks change to mudstones and siltstones, with sandstone on top. These rocks formed over 300 million years ago when the land that is now Ireland was covered by a shallow tropical sea near the Equator. The remains of billions of tiny sea creatures drifted down as fine sediment and collected on the sea bed to form limestone. As sea levels fell the tropical sea was replaced with tidal flats, and then by a humid river delta eventually forming other sedimentary rocks – mudstones, siltstones, and sandstones.
Over time, the land pushed up out of the sea and moved north away from the Equator. Later still, the Irish landscape was altered by the erosive forces of nature including successive Ice Ages when massive ice sheets gouged the rocks beneath them. While these rocks are common in Ireland, it is very unusual to find such a complete sequence all in one place. It is quite mind-boggling to think that as you ascend to the summit of Cuilcagh Mountain, you are climbing up through geological time, covering a period of about 8 million years in just less than 700metres.
Flora & Fauna
Cuilcagh’s many different natural habitats mean it is a perfect place to enjoy nature. From the summit, there are breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside, including a sweeping expanse of blanket bog, stretching like a huge cloak across the middle slopes of the mountain. This is one of the largest blanket bogs in Northern Ireland and one of the most intact blanket bogs in Western Europe.
Blanket bogs are wet, squelchy places where the peat forms from the remains of mosses and other plants in a layer typically 2-3 metres deep and supporting unique plants, animals and insects that are adapted to the water-logged ground. Blanket bogs usually exist alongside other habitat types and on Cuilcagh, areas of heath are commonly mistaken for blanket bog as they contain many of the same types of plants and animals. Montane heath is an extremely rare type of heathland, found on the summit of Cuilcagh Mountain, which is one of only a handful of locations in Ireland.
Many streams and rivers flow off the upper slopes of Cuilcagh through the blanket bog and sink into the limestone carving out a network of hidden caves. The lower slopes of Cuilcagh are dominated by rare limestone grasslands that are awash with colour when wildflowers and herbs burst into life in the Spring. Cuilcagh also supports a diverse range of animal, bird and insect life including the rare Golden Plover.
Man’s influence on Cuilcagh Mountain dates back to the Neolithic farmers (4,000 – 2,500 BC) who constructed many megaliths, or stone tombs used as burial places. Bronze Age (2,500 – 500BC) people built large burial cairns that are located on the western and eastern ends of the summit. Later evidence of human occupancy is sketchy until medieval times when the Irish population was high and land was at a premium. More recently, the Irish Famine in the mid 19th Century forced people to abandon the land so all that remains of their once thriving rural community today are derelict stone farm cottages and field walls.
Education & Events
The geopark carries out a range of Geopark education programmes on Cuilcagh every year when students, from primary school through to university, visit Cuilcagh every year to take a closer look at the many geological features or to conduct field studies on the blanket bog. The geopark also runs events for the public to enjoy such as Jeep Safaris.
Recreation & Safety Information
The spectacular landscape of Cuilcagh is ideal for walking; whether a short stroll or some serious hill walking, there are routes to suit individuals of all abilities and levels of fitness. Walks are graded to show the level of difficulty while interpretation panels show route maps and features of interest to look out for. Each walking route is fully waymarked – so you do not have to be a map reading expert to follow the route. However, for safety you should always be properly equipped to deal with rapid changes of weather and visibility in an exposed and remote upland location like Cuilcagh Mountain.
Please click here for more detail on walking on Cuilcagh Mountain.
As well as being in a Global Geopark, Cuilcagh Mountain is designated as an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) Special Area of Conservation (SAC), a Natura 2000 site and a RAMSAR or wetland of international importance. All reflecting the fact that Cuilcagh hosts many rare species, natural habitats and geological features. The Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark is committed to the conservation of both the Cuilcagh landscape and the fine caves that lies beneath it.