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Cambridge Underground 1974 pp 6-8

THE GUINNESS SUMPS OF CO. CLARE, EIRE

A "Tourist" Caving Holiday - Easter Vac 1973.

Contrary to popular English belief, Co. Clare is not going up in flames and indeed, as I knew from my three previous visits, is in quite the opposite state, being one of the most beautiful and pleasantly sleepy backwaters of Eire. The countryside of North-West Clare is unique in Britain and Ireland, comprising the 50 square miles of completely bare limestone karst scenery and the other barren and mysterious areas of the High Burren, complete with megalithic tombs, raths and druid's altars. The nearby spectacular Cliffs of Moher which rise sheer for 600ft. out of the Atlantic and an abundance of local early Christian celtic remains also add interests apart from caving for those with shredded wetsuits, hangovers, etc..The caves there are easily accessible and in many ways unique in their rock formations and passage shapes, with an occasional cluster of extremely beautiful formations. The length and interest of these caves coupled with the friendliness of the locals, the excellent traditional ceilidh music of Clare and the permanently open pubs make it an ideal place for a caving holiday. So, with the last-mentioned asset firmly outweighing any financial, planning or logistical problems, Bob Mathews, Paul McLellan and I set off on the 2nd of April having spent the previous night at Caerllwyn. We took the afternoon ferry from Fishguard to Rosslare. This soon became the evening ferry as a force 6/7 wind made the loading of cars very hairy and of artic lorries impossible until 4.15pm. After a slow but spectacular crossing we did a suicidal night drive to the Lisdoonvarna caving cottage run by Mrs. MacCarthy and, bumbling around over already sleeping bodies in the dark, crashed out at 1.30am.

The next morning we awoke to find the place inhabited by a dozen members of another nameless English caving club who were rather anti-social and said we ought to clear out as they were there first. This rather upset Peggy MacCarthy but I knew of an old disused hotel owned by the "Powers That Be" of Lisdoonvarna and we negotiated a rent free occupancy of Glen View Hotel (0.05*) which is often used by Tratman's U.B.S.S. cavers. Immediate caving was called for to restore morale and so in steadily worsening weather we drove up to Polelva pothole -lower entrance to the extensive 10 mile long Polnagollum-Polelva system. We abseiled down the 100' pot (which has a very impressive waterfall crashing down beside one) and did a very rapid trip through the Maze and then up the huge streamway. This has the fascinating archetypal Clare canyon crosssection of multi-level flyover oxbows rising up to an undetermined height over 60'. After emerging at the bottom of the 100' deep (but climable) Polnagollum shakehole, we ferreted back in again to have a look at Branch Passage Gallery through the Muddy Link. Having progressed some thousand or so odd feet along the high-level roof traverse, lights started flickering and dying. Although we could hear water 25' below we couldn't reach it and it was discovered that no-one wanted a pee. Then Paul's carbide broke off from its bracket and plunged away into the darkness..... the final entry in the log-book reads "grope, grope . . . ½ a light sees us out". The next day's weather is recorded as pississtent rain. We set off with the van carefully loaded with all the caving equipment except towels and boots, so we just couldn't go caving. Instead we conducted a surface survey locating caves to do during the next week which I hadn't been to before, but our efforts were somewhat thwarted by low-flying mist and Irish bulls. We also located Poll-na-pistoff (an old C.U.C.C. dig/cave) but it had totally collapsed in again and would need a Cwm Dwr type entrance to ensure security. Thursday saw the permanent return of fine weather and was spent doing the Doolin system which contains marvellous rock formations, some looking just like Henry Moore sculptures, and is over 6 miles long with a plan shape roughly in the form of a 'Y'. We went in the 40' Fisherstreet pot at the foot of the 'Y' and grovelled up the left hand arm (Aran View tributary), re-entered by the right-hand arm (St. Catherine's 1) and re-emerged from Fisherstreet Pot. We thereby cut to a minimum the surface walking which can be a dreadful bore if one just does the normal through trip from St. Catherine's 1 to Fisherstreet. The whole trip was about 3 miles and took 4+ hours so it is clear that the going is pretty easy! It was in Doolin that I dropped my camera in the water; the film emulsified but the camera was (and is) O.K.. However at the time I didn't realise that the film had emulsified, being a mere thick Arts Student, and proceeded to flash and click away for the next week in the fond hope that I was to receive some good underground slides. In fact all I have to show for £5 worth of film and bulbs is a strip of plastic covered in totally psychedelic colours. It looks like the effects of a bad trip. Friday saw us up on Knockauns Mt. doing the delightfully decorated Faunorooska cave withits thin water chutes and interesting but rather too easy final traverse. We followed this up with a boring trip into the immediately adjacent Pollballiny which we aborted at the first possible excuse!

Next day we did a fine trip into the "fearsome" Coolagh River Cave - which is considered the most dangerous cave in Ireland since its lower 60' high canyons have flooded frequently to the roof and the entrances always flood first! Two early U.B.S.S. hard men sat out a flood there in the fifties and sometime in the sixties Polldonagh South entrance was under a good 20' of water during one observed flood; at that point water was spurting up out of the small sinks all the way down the dry valley under the extreme pressure. However in settled weather it is safe enough and so we entered the main Coolagh River Passage and, after some difficulty in locating the connecting crawl to Gour Passage, broke through into the lower Main Drain. This is a superb piece of passage, with exhilarating water chutes, a continuous thunder of water and ideally textured walls rising up beyond the range of one's beam. After dashing down to Terminal Passage we decided to forgo the final bedding-plane and exited via Double-Passage and Polldonagh South. As an added bonus we whizzed down the road to grovel into Pol-an-Ionian on a pilgramage trip. This cave, after leading one along an exceptionally unpleasant knee and elbow wrecking crawl for c.500', suddenly pops out into a huge phreatic chamber with one gigantic solitary stalactite in it. This hangs free from the very centre of the roof and is 42' long, the longest free-hanging stal in western Europe and surely by far the most impressive, standing as it does in isolated splendour; well worth the agonising return crawl only enhanced by Bob gashing his elbow. I think that Bob got very pissed that night as most of the page in the log is taken up with a spidery scrawl of "I love Guinness". Actually I seem to remember that we got fairly paralytic most nights and the early morning drives back to Glen View would consist of dodging armoured cows, goats and 50mph drystone walls.

Sunday has long been advocated as a day of rest and so we obligingly fell into line by gluing wet-suits together (and Bob to his wet-suit) until 2.00, when we meandered up to the Cullaun ridge to do Cullaun 2 (The Bloody Guts) and Cullaun 5. These are two of the least strenuous caves of Cullauns - 1 to 7 and were pleasant rest day trips, only livened up by the discovery and christening of Sensitol Slide in Cullaun 5 - a particularly erotic mud squeeze by the 5d entrance.

Monday was devoted to the photographing of parts of the Polnagollum system (unwittingly using the useless film); we proceeded down Branch Passage Gallery to ladder the pitch at the end, making an abortive attempt to scale Leprechaun's Leap (a series of ascending and seemingly unending cascades) and also caving upstream to explore B.P. Galleries east and west. In a crawl on the way out an attempt on my life by Bob was foiled. The boulder missed and dropped on to my shoulder instead . . . no injury though (My shoulder hurts?). On Tuesday 10th we indulged in a Celtic Studies surface tour across Ireland and camped for the night next to the Mitchelstown Caves in Co. Tipperary. These we explored the next day, but made the mistake of wearing our normal gear - ie. wet-suits - instead of claggies. It was a totally dry system. No further comment.

After changing and packing up for the last time, a final hair-raising tyre-screeching drive to Rosslare was followed by a typically obscene crossing on a foul B.R. Sealink ferry and so a return to exotic Britain.

Slainte, Rodraig Macliamaille.


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