Noone’s Hole is an iconic and deep pothole on Knockmore mountain in Northern Fermanagh.
In the area between here and Pollaraftra can be found the finest exposed limestone pavement in Northern Ireland (Porter, 2003). The surface karst landscape continues 120 meters below the surface, in what has developed as one of the finest cave systems in Ireland: the Noone’s-Arch system. This is a classic example of the process of karst speleogenesis (cave development).
Noone’s is the catchment sink for the region; from here it percolates through well developed limestone streamways and resurfaces at the spring of the dramatic Arch Cave. The entire length of intricate and often beautiful cave passages are accessible from sink to spring, though there are numerous sumps that must be dived.
As a caving experience, Noone’s-Arch offers most of the challenges and rewards possible in a cave environment. For here there is perfect solid limestone, classic streamway passages and pretty calcite decorations, dramatic deep vertical shafts, multiple diveable sumps; all within a navigable sink-to-spring system. It is a text book story of how a cave works but one which is not often seen in Irish caves.
The shaft entrance at Noone’s is spectacular. At 82m vertical range it is Ireland’s deepest single pothole. Beginning as a small collapsed doline it quickly bells out, as the descending caver passes through the sinking river, along multiple balconies with daylight visible, until the bottom is finally reached. It is vertical karst geology at its best in Ireland. Its history however tells another, more sinister tale. Although of recent times, relative to the cave’s geological age, there occurred an event here which cannot easily be parted from the cave’s story.
Until 1825 Noone’s Hole had been known as Sumera, from the Irish ‘súmaire’ (Dowd, 2015), meaning ‘swallow hole’ but sometimes translated as ‘abyss’. Dominic Noone, a Leitrim man living in Derrygonnelly, was popular locally and known to be fond of music and dancing but perhaps, yet more fond of women. He was involved in the Ribbonmen, an illegal and secret society of marginalised Catholics who fought, often violently, for agrarian reform. Noone became an informant, double-crossing men in his brotherhood. His reasons are often omitted in some descriptions of events but it is said that he acted out of revenge, having been rejected by a woman on whom his charms had failed (McCusker, 1988).
In revenge, he informed on her and her brothers and many were tried and exported to Australia for life. Noone was placed under voluntary police protection. Some stories tell he was lured to a wedding, drawn by his love of music; others tell it was a tryst with a woman. Either way, he was deceived on the heights of Knockmore where he was met by the Ribbonmen. Beaten with some “tremendous weapon” (as described to the jury of the day), it was supposed that he received informant’s ‘justice’, by having his tongue cut out and being thrown down the depth of Sumera, or Noone’s Hole. No one was ever charged and no one colected the police reward of £100. His story was maintained in a long ballad of 1879, part of which is quoted below.
Noone’s-Arch has further history from the close of the 19th century. Both ends of the system were chosen to be investigated by Édouard Martell, the father of speleology, on his visit to Ireland. I will cover this separately when I write on the caves of Marble Arch.
I don’t normally include content on this website that is not mine, but an exception has to be made for the following work. The concept and execution is by Becks Kelly, who features in the majority of photos on this entry, and is inspired by the fate of Dominic Noone and the role of the Ribbonmen secret society. It was featured as the SUICRO Symposium 2019 t-shirt design and sold out exceptionally fast. It is a beautiful piece, so please enjoy and support Becks’s work at her Instagram account here: https://www.instagram.com/buckfaust_art/?hl=en
Note: In published works, this cave is named Noon’s Hole. I have taken the liberty to change it, here, to Noone’s Hole to reflect its origin and because if a man is going to die to name a cave, then the least we can do is spell his name properly!
Dowd, M., 2015, The Archaeology of Caves in Ireland, Oxbow Books: Oxford.
McCusker, B., 1988. Dominick Noone and How Noone’s Hole near Derrygonnelly Got Its Name. Clogher Record, 13, pp. 137-140.
Porter, E. M., 2003. Belmore, Ballintempo & Tullybrack Uplands; Noon’s Hole-Arch Cave, Earth Science Conservation Review, viewed 28th May 2020, <http://www.habitas.org.uk/escr/site.asp?item=1161>