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Ireland 12th - 19th July 1969

By Roy Bennett

The party consisted of Steve Tuck, Dave Irwin and Roy Bennett, and the main intention was to more thoroughly examine the Fergus River Sink and the surrounding area.

The Saturday was spent in travelling from the ferry to County Clare with various diversions.  To begin with a sink shown near Kilkenny on the ¼in Bartholomew map was visited.  This is west of the town about a mile S.W. of Castle Blunden.  The shale limestone boundary in this area is obscured by drift and most of the drainage stays on the surface.  There was a sink roughly at the point indicated however, but the water disappeared into holes in the gravel and earth, with no solid rock exposed and no possibility of entry.

Feeling like visiting a real cave, the party descended Dunmore Cave which is large and impressive, with formations.  It is arranged in a semi-show cave with concrete steps down the entrance, but no guides or lights.  Some caving clothes are preferable if the inner recesses are to be penetrated.  The general area is one of potential caving interest as it has extensive shale limestone boundaries, but these are so thickly covered in drift that very few sinks occur (Coleman).  Dunmore Cave appears to be something of a freak, and bears little relation to present topography which shows little sign of cave development.

On reaching County Clare the party were again persuaded to investigate things speleological, in this case the hydrology of the Quin area.  This is mentioned by Coleman, where it appears from the map to be a possible subterranean cut-off of the Rine River. None of the sinks and risings mapped appeared to pass much water (? Ed) and this could all be local percolation. The relief is rather low, but there could well be some small caves in the area.

Sunday saw the team established in the Fergus River area.  A repeat inspection of the sink was made and it was concluded that no site looked as promising as the rift which was dug abortively the previous year (B.B. 1968, Vol. 22 No.2, page 96).  The shale limestone boundary to the north produced only small seepages until Lemech Castle is reached.  Here there is a small sink, where cattle are watered, with some holes just to the west of it (6” map ref. Clare sheet 16 N2.8 E8.8 O.D. 180ft.). The site could repay a little digging, but any cave is likely to be low and rather organic.  The water presumably resurges into the Fergus River about 40 – 50ft. lower.

Monday saw the team struggling over the High Burren in (almost) sub-tropical heat.  The interest lay in the area south of the Carran Polje. This closed depression, several miles across is perhaps the most spectacular feature of the bare limestone uplands of the Burren.  It is drained by the Castletown River which sinks at one end, the water having been traced to Ballycasheen Cave resurgence four miles to the south (Caves of Clare p.218). Tratman has pointed out that there is a syncline running from the polje in the right direction to guide the water. The dry valley which follows this was looked at, but yielded only a small cave some 40ft. long near a small spring. (6” ref. Clare 10  S10.3, W10.4).

The Castletown sinks itself was most remarkable with the river meandering across the marshy bottom of the polje to disappear into an ‘island’ of boulders surrounded by low lying ground.  There were thin calcareous deposits to be seen on the rocks and vegetation and little solution of the boulders appeared to be taking place.  This indicated a low capacity to dissolve limestone and form a new cave, so that most of the cave between sink and rising is most likely to be impassable.  It clearly cannot be entered from the sink end.

After this a visit was paid to the Gort area where the vast sinks and risings to the south of the town were looked at.  The limestone here is rather low lying but could be of interest to divers.  It is well worth a visit to look at the supra-terranean speleological scenery, however.

Tuesday was a fateful day on which our leader became ill, recovering only fully by the end of the week (lies! –Ed).

Wednesday saw the depleted party photographing in Pollnagollum and finding that 20ft, of tackle is required to get from Branch Passage Gallery to Branch Passage.  This is not clearly stated in either Caves of Ireland, or Caves of N.W. Clare.  Our leader redeemed himself by his fishing!

Thursday saw the whole party subverted to this sport but this was followed up by a look around the area to the south of the Fergus River Sink.  The area to the S.E. if the sink is low lying and floods when the river is very high.  There is a permanent sink at the lowest point called Poulnargralle (6” map ref. Clare 16 N9.9, E7.4).  Just to the E. of the active sink a small hole walled up with stones gave access to a rift some 20ft. long with at least 6ft. of water and eels at the bottom.  Both ends of the rift were solid and the whole is rather similar to the passages at the rising, Pollaboe, which also does not go (B.B. 1967 Vo. 21 No. 7). The land surface between the main (Fergus River) sink and the rising is low and is likely that all cave development consists of small, mainly flooded, rifts such as theses.  This could quite well be the case if the flow is very near the surface, where there would be a multiplicity of open joints, and no gradient to direct the water into a few favoured channels.  Thus conditions are not the same as those in well drained limestone of the main caving area with cave systems often running close to the present shale limestone boundary where joint opening would be more recent. It was concluded therefore, that chances of finding open cave were not good.  To round off the immediate area two further sinks to the south were looked at.  One by a former Constabulary hut (6” map ref, Clare 16 N11.9, E7.1) yielded nothing, while the other, a vertical sided depression in shale called Poulnaloon (6” map ref. Clare 16  N11.6, E7.5) had a small hole at the bottom.  A little digging in evil smelling mud soon proved that this did not go.

Heavy rain prevented the planned caving trips on the Friday and Saturday saw the team travelling home, stopping only to visit Michelstown show cave and to take a brief look at the nearby Tincurry sink.

We did some drinking as well of course.

Bibliography

Coleman J.C.                             The Caves of Ireland..

Tratman E.K.                             The Caves of North West Clare, Ireland.