HomeCaving AbroadIrish caving part 1: Pollnagollum and Pollballyally

Irish caving part 1: Pollnagollum and Pollballyally

I’m sure these are spelt wrong, but this is my very limited experience of Clare caving. Headed down with Hugh to meet Arantxa, her family and professional Spanish canyoning friends. Up at a reasonable time the next morning and then onwards to Pollnagollum, the proclaimed longest cave in Ireland. We were to cave with Arantxa’s kids, aged 10, 8 and 5, that day, so we took things easy and enjoyed the sun while laddering them down the entrance climb. Once in, we had a nice crawl and then a good stream stomp, the kids loved it and were much more capable than many student cavers I have met! A decision was made by the Spanish to turn around after an hour or so, leaving myself and Hugh to explore onwards alone. Further exploing upstream revealed not much, but a climb up to dry higher level passage gained access to some sandy crawling. This led to some pleasant traversing and a pull-through into a different lower streamway, and after some poking around up here we headed on out, being in fact quite close to the main entrance at this point (the cave has multiple entrances and has good potential for sporty through trips). Very nice cave with great potential for more discovery, should return one day.


Back on the surface, we soaked up some more unprecedented April sunshine at a lovely pub on the way back to Lisdoonvana and once back enjoyed fooding and then many beers in the excellent pubs there with Gaelan and his climbing friends. It was in the pub that night that Hugh and I decided to do a sporty number the next day in the form of one of Clare’s only Yorkshire pothole-style trips, by the name of Pollballyally. We would need more rope and some hangers from Terry, one of the locals, which we arranged to pick up in the morning from the Clare Caving Group meeting points.


We awoke somewhat the worse for wear but arrived in good time to pick up the required gear. It turned out that Terry couldn’t supply quite everything that was needed, so we headed off to the Clare ICRO rescue depot in Doolin to borrow the rest. Soon we were at the parking for the cave after a very slow journey behind some cows. The entrance proved tricky to find, even with a set of GPS coordinates, but once found it was quite obvious and bore clear resemblance to the description (under a big lichen-covered boulder near a tree in large depression). I headed in and really enjoyed the awkward, sharp streamway which reminded me of under-travelled Dales potholes, similar to Newby Moss Pot. Once at the first pitch, the rigging was not as described and no bolts were to be seen, save a very small (<8mm diameter) hole that looked to be formed from some kind of concrete screw. chockstone in the ceiling got us down with a bit too much rub for my liking on 8mm. Short distance to 2nd pitch, which had sufficient bolts but was rigged straight with the water and all metal was therefore rusted to shit; had to make do with halfway-in spits and very tight rigging until the last hang where a reliable natural was found.


Some low crawling brought us to near where the last pitch should be, but I missed the obvious way heading left and up (the stream had by this time left the main passage) and instead found myself in an awkward, tight, very unpromising immature flat-out thrutch with a bag of rope. Removed SRT kit and persevered until Hugh announced he had found the correct way. This had a very poor spit at the start and then a good natural. Hugh descended to the rebelay ledge and announced a lack of usable bolts and a very wet final hang, so we decided to head out (it was getting on a bit by now after the mornings delays and I had a flight at 8am next morning to a conference in Vienna). This was also Hughs first more testing trip since fucking his ankle at Richard and Eabha’s wedding do in January, so he was quite tired and still had to drive back to Dublin. Out in just over an hour, meaning the trip had been around 4 hours long: quite a protracted affair for a cave less than 500m long and 100m deep! A good trip which if in Yorkshire would see much more traffic, I think we were the first to descend for well over 8 years. Could do with some nice stainless through-bolts or HKDs to make the descent safer. Think the first lads down from the CSS (Chelsea) free climbed most of the pitches when it was much drier weather. All in all, a good weekends caving.


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