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Ireland Easter 1986

What with green holes, brown holes and the possibility of a speleological equivalent of a black hole it was quite a colourful trip.  We discovered that an overdraft facility is useful nowadays if you want to buy a round of Guinness.  Martyn Grass avoided being roped into the Gay Caving Association (no letters please if there really is one) and kept us brilliantly entertained for the week.  We even went caving.

The trip was originally conceived by myself as an exploratory visit to the "Green Holes" of Doolin.  Martyn came up with a cottage so the party expanded to eventually include Martyn, Chris Smart and Karen, Angie and myself, Rick Stanton (ex-Cerberus) and Mark Vinall (who might be a PCG member) plus Martyn's Alsatian Hannah.

Our arrival in County Clare was characterised by the usual cock ups.  We rang Mrs. Green, the owner of the cottage, to say we would be arriving late.  Not to worry, she said, the house was a bungalow a mile from Kilshanny school and she would leave a light on.  Arriving at 11 pm we discovered numerous well lit bungalows a mile from Kilshanny school. Our first nefarious halt involved my turning the heavily laden car on somebody's front lawn then Mark discovering the only occupant of the house was an immobile and unresponsive individual sitting (probably quaking) in a back bedroom.  We left.  The next call led us to being directed down the road to the next bungalow and success. Thinking to improve matters the next day for Martyn, who arrived on a later ferry, we left a message at the outdoor centre to the effect that the bungalow was white with a wall round the garden.  During daylight hours admiring all the nice bungalows with walled gardens in the area we thought we could have been more specific.  Martyn, Chris and Karen were in seventh heaven after eventually finding it and comparing it with Mrs. McCarthy's cottage.  We set about making it more homely by dumping all the caving and diving gear in the front room.  We then tackled the fire, powered by what the Irish call turf. This was purchased at a bar in Ennistymon in the form of compressed blocks "briquettes".  All around the at the back of the bar were sacks containing peat but mysteriously "Gift from the EEC to the people of Sudan".

Day one saw us all down Cullaun 2 where some people descended the final pitch.  Photographic disaster one came, when part of my tripod decided to go back down the pitch without me.  The trip out consisted of my trying to move fast enough to catch somebody who would pose for a picture.  Outside the cave a surreal situation occurred when I was asked to pose with Pete Glanville for a picture (no relation).  I would have thought one was enough.

The sea looked rough the next day so Plan B was put into action.  This invclved driving round the Ennis area trying to find caves with sumps to dive using Self's guide book.  After a short detour up a rough track (even Volvos can ground) we found the first cave Pollaphuca (worth pronouncing with an "f" and "ucca") not far from a quiet lane.  The entrance was one of several well watered depressions.  The whole party of seven entered the cave armed to the teeth with ropes diving bottles and of course my camera; this was a mistake. In the lead I thought of Stoke Lane and thunderstorms as we wormed our way around an assortment of bends.  After 60 metres we reached the pitch where the passage was meant to enlarge.  Like an estate agents description the guide book concealed more than it revealed.  I quote "A 60 metres long crawl ends at an awkward 5 metre pitch.  Below the pitch the passage height is 6 metres and chert bridges divide the cave into two levels.  The passage ends in a sump".  What the guide book does not say is that the passage, pitch and sump are all in 5 horizontal metres of passage.  Once down the pitch I discovered this fact and worse that the sump was zilch as a diving proposition.  Exit disgruntled diver and sherpas.  Good dig tho'.

Keeping our mud stained wetsuits on we headed off for our next venue Poulnagolloor which sounded nicer and prettier.  Unfortunately the directions were just a little vague and five wet suited characters could be seen ranging some very un-speleological meadows staring the wildlife and drawing a big blank.  Wearing my widest smile I hailed a passing cyclist and asked the way to the nearest cave. Directions took us to some lads repairing a motorcycle which they promptly leapt on to show us the way.  We stopped by one of those ubiquitous Irish bungalows under construction and Martyn took the opportunity to carry out a timber raid to keep the cottage fires burning.  The cave itself was remarkably pleasant and reminiscent of some Welsh caves. A 2 metre by 5 metre joint controlled passage led as a pleasant stroll through some ducks to what Martyn authoritatively declared was the sump pool.  Rick kitted up and plunged off into the darker recesses of the "sump". A watery, "I think you might as well come through" was heard and we followed to emerge in a large passage and meet the sump proper.  Rick dived passing one airbell and then the bubble, and splashing faded to the slap of water on rock.  More noise and he was back.  "What. have you found?" we asked excitedly.  "Goes to a streamway" he muttered laconically "only ten metres long".  Grabbing one of his bottles a valve and my camera I plunged into the sump with him. We emerged in a foam covered pool into which splashed a roaring stream, a complete contrast to the still dark waters on the other side.  De-kitting we crawled off.  We knew no big finds were likely as the stream comes from a very close sink.  However any virgin cave is always exciting. After a couple of bedding crawls and a sort of duck up a cascade I left Rick to force a squeeze up through boulders. Instead I found an attractively decorated oxbow which bypassed some of the grovels in the stream.  Rick returned and after a brief photo call we made our way back through the sump.  After a wash off during which I found an unusual bit of flood debris - a school textbook on Greek - we psyched ourselves up for the third sump of the day.

After a seemingly endless drive through Ennis and down miles of long straight roads we arrived at the grounds of Kiltanon House, one of those places which over here would be a stately home and over there is a sinister ruin.  Tomeens turned out to be somewhere you can hardly believe is real. A fairly large river has hit a small limestone ridge and bored its way through just below the surface.  The impressive 6 metre by 6 metre passage has now been penetrated by a series of surface collapses making it almost a case of caving without lights.  However wetsuits were pretty essential as there were a number of deep pools.  In higher water conditions it would be quite possible to canoe through the whole system.  The exotic feel of the place was heightened by the strands of ivy hanging down from the collapse entrances.  It is a magnificent place.

We made the usual visit to O’Connor’s in the evening met up with Brian Judd and arranged a dive in the Green Holes the next day.  The keen team went down Pollnagree whilst Angie Rick and I opted for a walk up Turlough Mountain as it was such a sunny day.  Eventually everybody converged on Doolin in the early evening with the LADS, little Arthur and others acting as sherpas for the arduous 200 metres carry over limestone pavements to the dive site.  Rick and Brian dived something Brian had been having wild fantasies over for the last twelve months.  Dubbed Mermaid's Hole, this particular green hole began with a 4 metre square entrance and continued as a 5 metres by 3 metres canyon in perfect visibility.  Unfortunately although the divers reached air 80 metres in the cave closed down. However more passage remains to be pushed here.  Meanwhile I took Mark and Martyn down to find the holes I had written up in Descent. To my relief I found them reasonably quickly and even more surprisingly they were bigger than I remembered. Tying on a line I set off into my first green hole.  After 30 metres of roomy passage I reached a constriction and had to shift rocks to get through.  Beyond the passage opened out but my bottle (mental) had temporarily gone so I dumped the reel and backed out.  Mark Vinall lunged in and reappeared five minutes later having cut the line and then wondered if he had the right bit.  Martyn did a sub-aquatic tour of the area.  Rick emerged from Mermaids Hole in raptures, Brian in more sombre mood - he had hoped for some dry cave beyond the dive.  As it turned out that was the last dive we had in Mermaids that week.

The following day most of the party went to Aillwee after Rick had heard the final sump had not been pushed conclusively.  Angie and I went for a stroll down near Polisallagh the weather being too nice in our opinion to go caving and we had been into Aillwee before.  We had an encounter with the LADS who had the leprechaun-like habit of appearing from or disappearing into holes in the ground usually waving crowbars.  For the week that we were there they were always just on the edge of a breakthrough somewhere; they made it after we had left.  Meanwhile back at Aillwee the cavers and divers were shovelling in free food as fast as they could which is where we caught up with them.  Rick having done his bit for the day declined to dive so Mark Brian and I met up at Doolin for the second green hole assault. Unfortunately the tide was higher and a heavy swell was breaking when we arrived.  Undaunted Mark demonstrated how safe it all was by leaping into the pounding waves and getting himself chucked out again.  We were not entirely convinced but plunged in with Brian, not one of the largest of chaps, sporting two 72 cu. ft. bottles suspended from his waist. Once in it was every man for himself as I headed for the only green hole I hadn't seen this time armed with my trusty camera.  On the way back I encountered some legs sticking out of another hole.  Tugging the fins revealed a firmly attached Mark who proceeded to scribbled frenziedly on his slate "Brian's gone in" which I read as "Brian's going in?"  As I had entered the water with Brian I concluded he had surfaced so dragged Mark off back to the surface.  Meanwhile Brian emerged from the cave.  Back on the land we could see Brian’s head bobbing about amongst the waves as he plodded shore wards.  We hauled him out 72's and all.

The next day was the great Anglo-Irish Expedition to Poll na g Ceim which is a story in itself. Whilst Mark Rick and I assisted in our various ways Angie Chris Karen and Martyn got drunk at O'Donoghues - only open after 2 pm if you plan on ever going there.  They all learnt something interesting about German women, that you need Arabian sun tan oil for the sun traps of Ballyryan (watch out for the pine martens) and that if you order crocodile sandwiches you should make it snappy. Mark and I returned to find everybody in a very gay mood which culminated in Hannah getting so excited she bit Martyn in the buttocks whilst he was assaulting Angie.  This was just a prelude to what happened in Sean O’Connor’s restaurant with Rory and the German waitress.

On our penultimate day we said our farewells to Martyn Chris and Karen and the remaining four of us went to Fanore to get some air off John McNamara.  John handed us the keys to the compressor shed and told us to get on with it. Half an hour and three partially dislocated shoulders late we found the third lever - the one that actually allows you to crank the compressor successfully.  Bottles filled, it was back to say goodbye to M C and K again. Down at Doolin we were abandoned by Angie who declared diving in the swell was foolhardy.  Watching the waves spraying 2 metres above our heads I wondered if she was right.  Regardless we plunged in and lost Rick this time.  Whilst he wound up going into the harbour Mark and I headed for Chert Ledge Cave which I planned to push beyond the constriction.  Unfortunately a strange cold feeling started to creep up my left leg - my suit was leaking. I therefore lunged for the first, unexplored, cave which is Harbour Hole.  The cold was at waist level as I started reeling out line in perfect conditions. At 30 metres I encountered the toothless grin of a large dogfish who watched motionless as I swerved past him. At 40 metres a brilliantly coloured cushion star lay on the floor of the passage.  Feeling the penetrating cold I dumped the reel and groped my way out. Half an hour later I was gently steaming in O’Connor’s supping a welcome pint of Guinness.

Our final day dawned strangely quiet (Martyn had gone) as we prepared to visit Coole Cave which Rick and Mark were going to dive.  Locating it proved a problem - it lies in an absolutely minute depression about 3 metres across.  Once found we soon reached the diving site.  Mark and Rick disappeared into the murk and Angie and I took pictures. In the good old UK this cave would have been totally vandalised by now.  It consists of several hundred metres of well decorated walking sized phreatic passage, an old route of the Coole River which is seen nearby.  It harbours numerous bats and an interesting feature is some calcited string which is the traditional Irish route finding technique. Rick and Mark emerged after an hour or so having a great respect for Martyn Farr's climbing skills.  Rick had pushed on beyond Farr's limit to another chamber and sump.  This cave could go for miles in this fashion.  The only problem is the fine grained and ubiquitous mud which required half an hours work in the Coole River to remove.

On the day we had to leave Rick discovered I hadn't repaired my dry suit properly by borrowing it and using it.  He also rescued the line reel from Harbour Hole on a very pleasant dive in perfect conditions with Mark.  I stood on the surface cursing the cold I was nurturing.

All in all a good trip. Lots of potential and anybody who says Clare is boring caving ought to try Poll na g Ceim.

Pete Glanville