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Fermanagh 2006

Rich Bayfield, Andy Kuzyk, Charlotte Harris, Rich Beer and Chris Jewell (some of the BEC youth) went to Fermangh in Northern Ireland for a long weekend of caving.

A couple of years earlier I’d been to Mallorca on a caving and canyoning trip with a large contingent of Irish cavers and when I met one of them in the Hunters in September I thought it was about time I went and did some caving over there.

 

So I emailed the group (the yahoo mailing list was still working) and Stephen McCullagh got straight back to me with an invite to come caving in Fermanagh. He also told us about staying in Agnahoo if we felt brave. As it was going to be a BEC trip I thought an old stone cottage in the middle of the countyside with no electricity and no running water was perfect!!

The others got flights from Bristol whilst I flew from Luton on Thursday night and we all met in Belfast Airport at about 10.30pm. After a quick food pit stop we headed for the countryside of Fermanagh. Finding the way turning to Agnahoo in the rain in the middle of the night was a bit tricky but finally we were sat in front of warm fire drinking baileys (from duty free) and eating flap jacks (provided by Rich Bayfield’s girlfriend). We all then bedded down in the front room after deciding that at 0 degrees it was too cold to sleep upstairs.

Friday morning dawned bright but cold and we headed off to Eneskillen to do our shopping for the week. After stocking up on wood coal, Tea lights, plenty of food and booze we had a late breakfast and packed up for Prods Pot. Charlotte was trying to find creative ways of avoiding caving and suggested various ‘warmer’ alternatives but I was having no dissention in the ranks and we headed off to get underground at about 3pm.

Whilst we kitted up Charlotte made lots of jokey remarks about forgetting kit and not having to go underground as she got changed. But when we were finally ready she was actually looking forward to the trip which made it somewhat ironic when at the entrance to the cave she assembled her SRT kit to discover she’d left her Croll at Agnahoo! We did actually feel sorry for her but I also hope she’s learnt not to tempt fate!

Prods, with its narrow pitches was an excellent introduction to Irish caving and the final pitch complete with boulder squeeze is a good bit of fun. At the bottom the four of us ditched our kits and headed off down stream, checking out several very muddy side passages on the way. We finally turned around above a narrow foam filled canal before heading quickly out.

Back at Agnahoo team slick got into action – whilst I improvised kit storage and ‘drying’ facilities, Andy and Rich Beer started on dinner, Charlotte lit a fire and Rich Bayfield de-knotted ropes. Soon we were all sat in front of the fire sipping beer, shovelling down a delicious curry and feeling pretty good about ourselves. Not long after one of our hosts – Steve Macnamara arrived and the six of us had a cosy night around the fire swapping caving stories. Poor Steve has to be commended for his patience with Charlotte, who was so fascinated by his Irish accent she imitated it badly several times – with the rest of us glaring at her and me poking her in the ribs.

The next day Steve had arranged to take us caving and we packed for Noon’s Hole. However knowing how wet it was we were prepared for an alternative which Steve knew about. The water pouring down Noon’s was orange with mud so we made the smart decision to go to Pollaraftara instead. Steve chatted to the Farmer to get permission whilst we kept back and stayed quiet (he doesn’t like English people) then we trekked through a boggy field over the entrance. This was an excellent river cave and we enjoyed ourselves for over an hour or so before we reached a deep canal. Rich Bayfield volunteered to see how far he could get but after 30m or so he was out of his depth and had to struggle against the flow back to us. This cut our trip short but what we did see was excellent and I’d love to go back and do some more of the cave.

Steve left us that night but back in Eneskillen we met the other Steve - Stephen McCullagh in the pub for our first Guiness of the trip. Back in Agnahoo after dinner more booze was consumed and the conversation became seriously weird with a discussion of favourite S.I. units led by Rich Beer and Andy (who wasn’t drinking!!).

The following day a trip was arranged for Rich Bayfield, Andy and myself (the others went walking) to Shannon cave - which has an interesting history: In 1980 the Reyfad Group opened up the Shannon entrance and explored downstream, passing George’s Choke in 1990. Beyond the choke they discovered several hundred metres of cave terminating in an un-dived sump. Only half a dozen groups have ever seen this section of cave as George’s Choke was extremely unstable (frequently falling in) and the entrance to Shannon finally collapsed in the mid 90’s. In 2005 both Steve’s, Les Brown and a team of diggers finally broke into Shannon from a previously unconnected cave – Polltullyard.

More recently they have been working on getting back through George’s choke and have carried a great deal of scaffold bar to stabilise the route through. We went down with Steve to have a look at the work done and have a look at some of his other leads.

A fine pitch in Polltullyard leads to some low crawling and then the connection tube/squeeze. Beyond here the cave opens up, firstly to some traversing, then to a pleasant stroll past fine formations before reaching the streamway. The cave continues in fine style and proportions – occasionally being interrupted by small squeezes or boulder chokes. We reached George’s choke without incident and had a look at the team’s work – which is very impressive – before going to do a bit of exploring of our own. Steve showed us to Agnahoo chamber where they have started to set up a camp site. We were very impressed with all of this, it seemed that not many people had been here and there were lots of possibilities. After a bit of poking around Andy K and Rich Bayfield went up a climb and through a squeeze which the more recent explorers hadn’t seen. This led to a short crawl and a chamber which doesn’t appear on the survey so Steve was pretty pleased. Whilst we were having a bit of a dig in one of the leads Rich and Andy went to get some tools from Georges choke. They hadn’t been gone long when they came quickly back with the news that the water (which was ankle deep when we went in) was now waist deep!

We quickly shot out of the dig and back up the stream way. There are several places where you need to stoop down in the streamway to pass by boulders and these all played on our minds as we headed our – the last thing we wanted was to spend the night underground! Fortunately we got out with just a couple of ducks to pass and were soon on the surface in the cold evening air. Shannon really hit a note with all of us – it felt like Daren Cilau must of when they started to camp – full of potential! And we all talked excitedly about doing long weekend trips to Ireland to help with exploration.

On our last night we sat round a roaring hot fire in t-shirts feeling great about our four days in Ireland and planning a return. I thoroughly recommend going caving in this excellent region.

by Chris Jewell