By David Galvin
It was an epic trip, and no doubt. Jeremy, Chris, Mark, Anthony, Pete, Mike, Tony, Jill, Olly, Tess and Wookey arrived at the village of Lahinch in County Clare on Easter Sunday night, all within five minutes of each other, and everyone left seven days, ninety nine caving hours, and about two hundred pubbing hours later. And that was about it, really.
Well, I suppose I ought to give a little bit more detail, for posterity. Not surprisingly, the first visit to the pub was on Sunday night, just after arriving. Quite surprisingly, though, the first caving trip was bright and early Monday morning (well, afternoon really, but let's not be pedantic!). Eight of us, including a local journalist, (my brother, who still hasn't written a story about us), headed down to Fisherstreet Pot from St. Catherine's One. It would have been a straightforward trip were it not for Tony shouting 'Stop right there!' at us every five minutes, so he could take photos ('Mike, lie down in that two foot deep pool of water with this flash'...), and Anthony G's recurring cry of 'There's a hell of a tight squeeze coming up around this bend!', heard before every kink in the passage. Even getting changed after the trip had its moments - Olly and Pete got accosted by two giris who wanted them to pose with them for a photo, while Anthony and myself were set upon by a young lad shouting: 'Mammy, Mammy, look at the Creatures!'. Isn't it wonderful the respect that cavers generate?
Thursday saw Wookey, Tess, and what was already being labelled 'Team Keen', (Pete, MTS, Anthony and Myself), taking a trip down the Coolagh River Cave, a meandering and really quite pretty streamway, ending in an horrible sump and an even more wonderfully horrible 'Mud Branch', a short, optional passage of vile, knee deep mud. We emerged after playing in the mud to find a beautiful, sunny day awaiting us, so we stretched out on the road for nearly two hours, during which only two people passed us, and curiously enough, one of them was none other than Mr. Judd of Poll na gCaim fame. Wookey ranted at him for a while about his write up of the Easter 1992 P. na gC. trip, (see Sam's article in the 1992 Journal), and he went away. Wookey, now alive again, proceeded to fettle a bit with the van, while waxing lyrical about how wonderful it was. Ironic, then, that in the middle of this Hymn of Praise to the Wookvan, the accelerator cable should spontaneously snap. We had to use a shoelace instead of a pedal to get ourselves home.
Pete, Anthony and I might have been part of 'Team Keen' cavers, but when it came to slop cooking, we were more than that, surpassing all known boundaries. Cries of 'Not Pasta And Carrots Again' were to be heard regularly from the kitchen, accompanied by the omnipresent odour of curry powder. If anyone is interested in finding out how seven nights slop can be made from these three ingredients alone, talk to any of us. We know it's possible.
Wednesday, the madness continued, as Tony and Jill accompanied Team Keen and Dan and Phil, two friends of Wookey's, down Cullaun Two. Cunningly avoiding the obvious and well trodden path exactly where the guide book said we should find one, we searched among ever thickening brambles for a half an hour, before we admitted defeat and headed down the gaping great hole we had so cavalierly passed by. The cave is a stomping streamway with lots of pretty bits, and turned out to be well worth a second visit. Meanwhile, as all this caving was going on, Wookey and Tess were tearing around the Burren on Dan and Phil's mountain bikes, while Jeremy, Chris, Mark and Olly went climbing, it being a really nice day.
Thursday saw Anthony and myself go down Faunarooska, a long vadose passage ending in a very pretty dry bit and a very wet wet bit, after which we looked into Hawthorne Swallet. 'Tight crawl around sharp bend for fifty metres to the limit of exploration' said the guide book, so needless to say we didn't look very far. Wookey, Pete and Mike decided to do something interesting, and lugged rope and ladders for two pitches down Pollballiny, whose 'second bedding crawl is two-thirds full of water and was for a long time the limit of exploration - the cave had long been thought to end in a sump here.' Sounds like fun. The gear was taken down in vain - the first boulder choke (just before the pitches) seemed impassable, even to Wookey, and so everything had to be carted back up again unused. The verdict, then, on this notorious cave? 'A real cave; more crawling than Penygent' said Wookey. Incidentally, for future reference, when the guide book says 'This cave is located in a featureless part of the mountain' what it means is that it is in the middle of a forest.
Contrary to popular belief, it doesn't always rain in Ireland, and up 'till now we had had four glorious days, but on Friday the drizzle set in, and the Old Lags who had spent the week climbing decided to get some caving in. The Poll na Gollum - Poll Elva through trip was chosen, and despite getting slightly lost on a few occasions, Jeremy, Mark, Tess and Wookey made the trip in two hours. Which, coincidentally, was the time it took the rest of us to not find the entrance to Cullaun One. We eventually decided to give up the search and go down Cullaun Two again, because at least we knew where that was by now.
Saturday saw the last of the caving for the week, with Pete, Mike, Tony, Anthony and Jill failing by just a few minutes to beat the record set the day before for the Poll na Gollum - Poll Elva trip, while everyone else just festered.
Of course, we did more than just go down the stomping streamways of the Burren. The main point to the trip was the Guinness, and that was indulged in liberally (Irish pubs having civilised licensing laws, ie., pretty much no laws at all). Only on the last night did anything go amiss. There we all were, half past one and the pints were still being pulled in the Nineteenth. Until, of course, the door swung open, and every soul in the pub froze. Everyone, that is, except Tony, who continued to knock back his pint, taking our worried glances at him as a sign that it was time for him to get the next round in. Only when the Sergeant was standing right behind him, and someone subtly whispered 'Tony, there's an Officer behind you', did he see fit to drop his glass, and try to act sober like the rest of us. Quote of the trip goes to him, repeatedly despondently as we walked back to the house: 'But there was still some Guinness left in that glass...'
We also almost abbed down a two hundred metre cliff, but having bolted it on Saturday night, Wookey showed a frighteningly sensible danger threshold by deciding that it was a tad too windy to go down on the Sunday. (I always thought that gale force winds only added to the excitement).
And that was about it, really. Seven good days of easy caving, seven good nights of Guinness drinking, could you want anything more out of life, I ask?