Polltullyard, from above
Polltullyard, from below
The famed River Shannon, the longest in Ireland and Britain, was known in legend to originate from the bubbling pool called Shannon Pot on the Western slopes of Cuilcagh mountain in County Cavan. But recent efforts by speleologists and geologists has proven that the Shannon’s origins are not as they appear. In fact, in the last few decades water tracing has shown the mighty Shannon begins more humbly as diffuse run-off on the slopes of East Cuilcagh (Gunn, 1996).
Straw formations and scalloped walls
This water is carried ten kilometres from Pigeon Pot in East Cuilcagh to Shannon Pot in the west, with much of it passing through Shannon Cave. At over 5km in length this significant cave has been one of the most impressive speleological discoveries in Ireland in the last four decades. Its discovery in 1980, by the highly productive Fermanagh-based Reyfad Group, led to a great burst of activity in the area with the pushing and discovering of new passageways. This, however, came to an abrupt end in 1995 when the unstable entrance collapsed and enclosed the cave.
But all was not lost and a pot nearby called Polltullyard (see first two photos), also discovered in 1980 would save the day. Polltullyard is a very fine single pitch of 33m depth which was re-investigated in 2005 by the newly formed Shannon Group. The pot was successfully dug, opening up a narrow passageway that abruptly drops the caver, practically head first, into Shannon Cave!
Dropping out of Rebirth Canal
Calcite curtains and a stalactite with helictites
Not far from here is JCP Passage, a pleasant 450 meter length of fine streamway passage. In parts it is very finely decorated, with straws, curtains and stalactites of a very pure white calcite. A special treat here is also the presence of numerous decent helictites, formations which grow in gravity-defying ways. It is around this region, close to the old collapsed entrance, that the county border is crossed and cavers find themselves in County Cavan.
The open spacious streamway continues throughout Shannon Cave but is interrupted occasionally by boulder collapses which can make route-finding somewhat tricky in places. George’s Choke further on in is notoriously tight and difficult to negotiate, indeed, it also required re-opening by Shannon Group. Beyond this, the same group added significant lengths of new cave to its western-most limit, including St. Patrick’s Extension and the Easter Extension in 2008 and 2009 (Macnamara, 2010).
There is so much to Shannon Cave and my photos represent only the first 500 meters or, approx. 1/10th, of the whole! I hope to update with more in the future and I also intend to re-shoot both of the photos from the Polltullyard pitch.
These photos were taken on outings with Breifne Caving Club and would not have been possible without the help and patience of the following flasholders and models:
Shay Doherty; Sara Garcia; Michal Spigiel; Adam Śruba
Gunn, J., 1996. Source of the River Shannon, Ireland. Environmental Geology. 27(2), 110-112.
Macnamara, S., 2010. Easter Extension, Shannon Cave. Irish Speleology. 19: 31-35.
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