Caves of southern Ireland hits the printers – and is already out of date!

Carrigagour Cave, Co. Cork. Photo © Stanislaw Drapala

The latest book on Irish caves to be published by the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society (UBSS) in conjunction with the Speleological Union of Ireland (SUI), Caves of southern Ireland has now gone to the printers and is expected to be launched this Autumn in both Ireland, at the SUI’s annual symposium, and in Bristol. And, as will be a familiar feeling for any guidebook editor, it is already out of date.

The book, as its name suggests, covers the most southerly counties of Ireland. Although there are significant caves found across the area, especially in counties Kerry and Tipperary, the area is something of a quiet backwater in caving terms when compared with, for example Fermanagh and Co. Clare. However, this is changing and nowhere more so than in Co. Cork where members of a resurgent Cork Speleological Group (CSG) have been re-opening long-lost caves, discovering much new passage – and surveying it.

The CSG had its last heyday in the 1970s and 80s when cavers such as Jerry Aherne and Cian O’Se led a very active group in much exploration. This work was recorded in a short run of newsletters from 1972 to 1975 and a series of fortnightly columns in the Cork Evening Echo mostly written by Jerry.

Since those halcyon days, little new exploration was carried out in Cork for a long time and sadly a number of caves have been lost under urban development and to the effects of quarrying. However, the need to check the details of many caves for the forthcoming book coincided with an upsurge in caving locally, with the CSG, encouraged by Stanislaw Drapala, agreeing to concentrate on visiting many sites where we knew that we needed up to date information.

Survey of Carrigagour Cave by Stanislaw Drapala and Daniel Drozd.

Many caves were visited, some possibly for the first time in many years, and many new surveys have been drawn up: Carrigagour Cave; Killavullen Caves; Slaughter House Cave, Knockane Cross; Shanbally Cave. Some of these caves, especially Slaughter House Cave, Killavullen 2 and Carrigagour have been extended by several hundred metres in total, which somewhat makes up for the passage lost to development. The survey work has been carried out by Stan, Brian MacCoitir, Michal Spigiel, Michael Burnfort, Jasper Lennon, Artur Lach, Szymon Drapala and Daniel Drozd and the drawing done by Daniel Drozd.

Work continues and the latest project has been the reopening of the Balls Rock Caves with the help of an enthusiastic landowner and his digger. Already this cave is estimated to be at least 100m longer than the plan drawn in the 1970s. This cave is one of many where historic graffiti detailing exploration in the 19th and early 20th centuries have been found, including signatures left by British Army Officers before independence in 1922.

Killavullen Cave 2, Co. Cork. Photo © Stanislaw Drapala

A further find has been made close to Mogeely Cave, too.

The new book is one of three which between them will cover the whole of Ireland; the others being Caves of Mid-West Ireland published in 2019 and Caves and Karst of the North and East of Ireland, the work of a different team and due to be published in 2023. Quite an advance on Jack Coleman’s 1965 book The Caves of Ireland, which covered the same ground in a mere 88 pages!

Despite this work, there remains much that can be done, again especially in Co. Cork. In 1965, Coleman wrote “many of the North Cork sites await proper exploration from a speleological point of view.” This is still true today.

Correspondent: Graham Mullan