by Duncan Collis
Well, here I am on a sunny Sunday morning, festering in bed with a hangover (because hangovers are easier to get than women, and are less of a headache), so I suppose I might as well start writing my piece on Ireland. Here goes then...
In case any of you didn't already know this, it rains a lot in Ireland. Almost all the time, in fact; a deluge of near Biblical proportions (large print edition, with Apocrypha), and with such dedication to its work (which is, of course, to make places wet and miserable) that, unlike the Irish labourers who were building a small house in the way of our short cut to the pub in Lahinch, it usually starts early, never pauses even for long enough to gulp down a refreshing cup of tea, has a working lunch, and puts in so much overtime that its missus is beginning to get suspicious. So we counted ourselves quite lucky, really, to visit the Emerald Isle at exactly the same time as the rain happened to be taken sick for a week or so.
And what a week it was. I don't remember (or care) who arrived when, but the net result was that sixteen of us bagged increasingly improbable pit spaces in Dave Galvin's holiday hovel (well, it actually started out as a holiday home, but then there was this bunch of cavers etc) and did all the usual things that cavers do. But while sitting around drinking tea and eating toast, festering on beaches, arsing around on crags and, of course, drinking lovely Guiness (about which I will not eulogise, as no Earthly amount of praise could do sufficient justice to this fine elixir of Bullshit), are all important activities in their own right, a caver's soul still cries out for the urgent slaking of its strange desires to wallow in the most disgusting of filth. But since, for most of us, there wasn't the slightest possibility of achieving this, we made do with a spot of caving instead.
It is, broadly speaking (at this point, picture the author of this piece waving his hands in the manner of a learned bullshitter), possible to classify the caves of County Clare into two distinctly vague types. These are: 1) Big, nice caves, and 2) Small, vile caves. Our special interest was focused predominantly on the former category, and as a result, the majority of our caving trips were down rather nice, large caves. This, I hasten to add, is purely due to our scientific interest in the processes leading to the formation of larger caves, and has no connections to allegations that we might all be as soft as grease. Which rather subtly leads this article to the bit where I go on for a bit about the caving that was done. Or, rather, about the caving that was done by me, as I haven't bothered to check the logbook to find out what everyone else thought of the caves (which probably wouldn't have made much difference, as I expect that hardly anyone has bothered to write anything much up yet. Well, I haven't, anyway.) So if your fave trip doesn't get a mention, tough shit - it must have been a crap trip, anyway, or you would have bullshitted about it and I would have noticed.
One of the first trips done (by tonnes of people; guess what, I can't remember quite who) was St Catherine's I - Fisherstreet, which gave the more festerously inclined among us to be able to claim at least some T.U. without actually having to do anything too unpleasant, and provided a nice introduction to the pleasures of Slack Irish Caving for those of us new to that particular joy. The trip took about a couple of hours and, apart from a short crawly bit at one end, a bit of wading at the other, and an unnecessary crawl (due to missing a big oxbow) in the middle, was lovely and stomping.
It was probably the day after this that Tony, Gill, Sam and myself did Cullaun II, eventually parking on the right road (after playing dodgems with some cows on an erroneous wrong road) and then finding the cave quickly and without anyone falling in the large patch of unfeasibly psychedelically coloured mud. The streamway is a pleasant stroll, with nice scenery. The alternative, dry route is not. In fact it's quite tedious, since it's too low to stand up in and has a diabolical welly-grabbing groove in the floor.
Quite a lot of time and effort was spent on the search for Poll Ballynahown. The bizarre shape of the survey of this cave led us to decide to take a trip down it to see it for ourselves. So Sam, Sean, MTS, Gill and myself spent ages traipsing all over a rather squishy hillside over a couple of days, eventually finding a promising looking hole in the ground. So we poked Sam down it, and waited a while before he cheerfully reported that it went. So the rest of the search party (at that time myself, Sean and MTS) followed him down, first extinguishing the fire that MTS accidentally started with his light. We spent a long time on our elbows, and the rest of the time in various peculiar contortions, and eventually reached an unexpected pitch, at which point we concluded that we were down the wrong hole in the ground. We returned to the surface, having been underground for an hour and a half, during which time we had gone 200m each way. Can anyone suggest a good reason why there were so many hot water bottles down this cave? I've never seen any underground before, and then there's about a dozen of them down this little hole! We later discovered that the cave we had been down, Poulamega, had been the site of an epic rescue some years earlier, and also found what we believe to be the site of the entrance of Poll Ballynahown, which has been filled in at some stage.
Sam, Sean and myself were going to do a through trip of Poll Elva - Poll na Gollum. So we got kitted up in our SRT stuff, and walked to Poll Elva. Sam rigged, and cobbed the rope down. It was too short by quite some. We checked the label, which said 42m. We checked the other label, which didn't say anything, 'cos it wasn't there. We ranted amongst ourselves about the amount of ranting we were going to do at Steve, and the amount of beer we were going to make him buy us, and then we went to Poll na Gollum and went for a little potter around.
The caving highlight of the week, for those who did this trip, was Poll na Gree. This looked fairly promising in the guidebook, so looking for something new to do, Gill, Kate, Sean, Sam and myself tried it out. This cave has just about something for everyone - dramatic avens, a wet crawl, stomping bits, narrow bits, a 100m long roof traverse, and an optional squeeze. There was even a colony of pale frogs living in the sump. My favourite bit was the squeeze, which leads to a large aven, and is then the only way back out again. Going into the aven took some grunting, but basically wasn't too bad. Coming back out was another matter. Having to strip off to get through a squeeze isn't very nice, although it does keep your friends amused!
It's now almost exactly a year since I started writing this article, but here I am sticking an extra paragraph in after being ranted at by the editor for not giving it a proper ending (or much factual content for that matter). Unfortunately, I can now remember even less of what happened than straight after we got back. However, with my eyes brimming with nostalgic dew, and my voice cracking with emotion, I can definitely say that Ireland, Easter '95, was a jolly fine do. Days of sunshine and joy, occasional short caving trips, and nights of beer and bullshit. What more could anyone want for?
P.S. For comparison, here's my original closing paragraph, written at 2am a year ago, just before the journal deadline (ho ho):
All too soon, it was time for people to start setting off back for good old Blighty, thus closing another chapter in the history of life, the universe and festering.