Irish Student Caving Forum - Easter 2002
Report by Colm Carroll
The Irish student caving forum is an annual shindig organised by the university caving clubs of both the north and the south of Ireland. I first went along two years ago, and had such a good time that I decided to go again this Easter. This year it was Queen's University Belfast Caving Club's turn, so they organised the party for Fermanagh, their nearest caving area. I arrived on Good Friday, with having made loose arrangements to descend Noone's hole with some Dublin cavers. Unfortunately, I was a bit late, and they'd already left, so I bombed it along the winding country roads to the cave entrance, dived into my caving gear and hammered it down the pothole. The guidebook describes this as 'the finest pothole in Ireland' and it's easy to see why. I swing down the ropes like a monkey and end up at the bottom after the exhilarating descent. At the bottom, the guys had abandoned their harnesses and continued. I wasn't sure which was the correct way to go, but set off anyway in the most likely looking direction. As soon as I turned the corner and got out of daylight I was confronted by a dark, cold pool. Not fancying the idea of getting very wet, I chicken out and head back to the surface where I was met by Huddersfield caving club, on their way down.
Back at the forum centre, I hear of another trip to White Father's cave. Not satisfied with my aborted trip, I head off. White Father's is an excellent Sunday morning trip as it's guaranteed to cure any hangovers. As I arrive I spot the other Dublin cavers getting changed, and in no time we're all entering the wide, wet entrance of the river cave. This cave has no technical aspect to it at all, the only attraction is the 30m of swimming required just before the exit! Bearing in mind this was still March, you can imagine how cold it was - we all turned into eunuchs! I'd been in before so knew to swim as quickly as possible to get out and spent the next 10 minutes jumping up and down to get the feeling back in my legs. Enda was right behind me, but he was struggling with his wellies and had to abandon them to the depths of the river. Suitably refreshed, it was time for the evening's festivities to begin.
Good Friday being one of two days in the year that pubs have to close in the Republic, we headed for Boho in the North. The student forum is about much more than caving, so an evening of story swapping, expedition planning, and mountainous drinking was had, continuing in our caving hut after the pub eventually turfed us out.
After a leisurely breakfast the following morning, with the highlight being a Mrs. Doyle impression with a tea-trolley, we headed to (Cave name) where we were doing the annual cave clean-up. All over the world caves have been used by local people as dumps, especially so in rural areas where there are no refuse collections. One of the ongoing aims of caving clubs is to clean up these sites. We spent the morning pulling piles of rubbish including one disintegrating mini and a massive steel water tank, a job well done.
That afternoon I found out that I'd been volunteered onto a trip into Pollnogossan, site of a previous cave clean-up. This cave is notorious for the car-wash. A sideways crawl at the entrance with the added attraction of a stream pouring down your neck, lovely. Luckily the weather was quite dry, so there wasn't much water in the stream. After the nasty bit, the cave opens up to a short 10m abseil into a chamber. From here on it was plain sailing (or so we thought). We soon got a sign of things to come when I was making my way around the edge of a muddy chamber. I was moving quite fast when all of a sudden my foot disappeared - I was being swallowed up by the cave. In my desperation to escape the angry beast, I managed to wedge my other welly alongside the first in the gloopy mud. All the others could do to help was laugh at me as I dug my wellies out by hand - I put the mud to good use and plastered the others with it. That'll teach them to laugh. Being more wary now, I let someone else take the lead, and we were soon enjoying the amazing formations that typify this caving region of Ireland. At the end of the cave is a chamber known as 'mud passage' - this sounded ominous and we were all soon stuck up to our knees in the quagmire. The problem with this passage is that it sloped downwards, so on our way back up, we kept sliding back into the pit. Dave, in particular had problems, having to abandon one of his wellies to the cave monster. Quite tired by know, we were all dying to escape, so moved fairly quickly to the exit. The streamway tumbled into the main chamber as a waterfall, and we all took advantage of the shower - absolutely freezing, but it cleaned us off. I was soon ascending the rope, once more through the car wash and sitting in the warmth of the car waiting for the others to emerge.
After another massive feed, it was back to the pub for more fun activities. A 'cave quiz' with plenty of embarrassing photos, followed by a raffle where everyone won at least one prize followed by copious beers long into the night. I actually went to bed early (3AM) as I had to drive home the following morning, but when I awoke at about 9, there was still a die-hard crew of about 10 polishing off the last bottle of Jameson's. I missed the final two days of the Forum, but by all accounts they continued in a similar vein, great craic in good company.