First Transnational Geopark in the World
a case study provided by Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark, Ireland/Northern Ireland (UK)
Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark can trace its history back to 1985 when the Marble Arch Caves were opened as a tourist attraction by Fermanagh District Council, followed by the opening of nearby Cuilcagh Mountain Park in 1998. The Marble Arch Caves are one of Europe’s finest showcaves and are located in Northern Ireland, close to the village of Florencecourt in County Fermanagh. The caves are widely regarded as a world-class natural attraction containing marvellous stream passages formed by three rivers that sink underground on the slopes of Cuilcagh Mountain.
Due to their internationally important landscapes, both Marble Arch Caves and Cuilcagh Mountain Park were jointly recognized as one of the first European Geoparks in 2001 and later as a Global Geopark in 2004.
Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark has undergone major changes since it was created, including two major expansions. In 2007, the Geopark expanded to include 18,000 hectares of some of the most evocative and scenic landscapes across west Fermanagh. As geological features do not recognize political boundaries, an application was made to the European Geoparks Network in 2008 to expand Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark across the border with the Republic of Ireland, into County Cavan. This logical progression meant that the geological story of places such as Cuilcagh Mountain, literally bisected by the border, could be told completely. The expansion has not only complemented the existing landscapes, but has added many glacial landforms to the geological repertoire, features that were not fully represented in the Geopark prior to the expansion. The expanded Geopark in County Cavan also contains a particularly high concentration of archaeological features, some dating as far back as Neolithic times. The stunning Burren Forest in west Cavan contains wonderful examples of prehistoric tombs, whilst the turbulent history of Ireland is reflected by the numerous 17th Century castles dotted across the landscape.
In recognition of the outstanding natural and cultural heritage and the valuable addition that it would make to the existing Geopark, the application for the expansion into County Cavan was approved in September 2008, making Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark, the first transnational cross-border Geopark in the world. Situated in a former conflict area, this UNESCO Global Geopark is now seen as a global model for peace-building and community cohesion.