Inside the large doline entrance of Teampall
The short waterfall pitch
County Leitrim is one of the most enigmatic yet neglected caving regions in Ireland. Despite having the second greatest number of caves in the Republic (after County Clare) (Drew, 2004) the caves are likely to be the least familiar to both cavers and the pubic. Since the 1950s there has been a lot of exploratory interest in the county but most cavers seemed to succumb to the unfortunately high ratio of appalling weather to slow discovery progress. Despite this there is continued interest in the county, especially in the Northern region around Manorhamilton, where most the pots and caves are to be found.
The beautiful main chamber
Leitrim, however, will probably never have a showcave like Clare or Fermanagh! The caves here are almost exclusively vertical pots that require rope access skills. It is perhaps their ‘inaccessible’ nature, their complex karst hydrology and the isolated beauty of the hills in which they are found that makes this region one of which I am particularly fond.
Teampall Shetric is the most geologically interesting cave in the area, with both vertical pitches and horizontal passages, as well as a main streamway, a feature not yet found in most other Leitrim caves. Locally, it has the longest history of exploration being first investigated and surveyed in the 1950s by various British caving groups. However, there has always been local interest in the cave and it was known to be used as a site for Mass during Penal times (Barry and Read 2014). It was also the scene of an tragedy in which a Sligo woman exploring the cave in 1936 fell to her death. The retrieval of her body by a police Sargent from Kiltyclogher, lowered down the 20m drop by local farmers, brought the cave to much attention.
The entrance is one of my favourite cave entrances. It is not dramatic or large but the fern and moss covered limestone cliffs that stand around and above, as if guarding the small sink hole entrance, plus the smaller pillars of cherty limestone really give a feeling of entering the namesack ‘temple’.
The main streamway passage
After a drop down by a small waterfall (see second photo, above), a number of passages all lead into the descent of the Main Chamber, a massive pot fed by two loud waterfalls. It is spectacular and humbling. The streamway then continues and makes for an excellent trip to the sumps. To the north west of the main chamber after a long crawling passageway the Memory Stone chamber is reached. Here many caving groups have left their signatures in ‘mud sausages’ on a large boulder. The oldest was left in 1946 by Johnson Dixon, a man about whom little appears to be known but who continued exploring and documenting the region into at least the 1970s.
The end of the rift section of O’Connel Street
Not far beyond here exploration by Shannon Group in 2013 led to the discovery of over 300m of new passage after a notoriously cruel and muddy dig. The new passage alternates between awkward squeezing and occasional small and prettily decorated chambers. Towards the end it opens up and closes just as quickly. There is still potential for new cave to be found here, and the rising has not been definitely located.
The wet pitch in the Main Chamber
Other parts of the cave may also offer up something new and I hope that this will be soon as Teampall – with over 1km of horizontal passage – may offer some clue as to what happens to the many local streams which suddenly disappear down deep potholes and which cannot be followed. In turn this might tell us more about the fascinating geology of North County Leitrim.
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:
Pavel Cesnak, Claire Dunphy, Stephen Frawley, Sara Garcia; Jock Read, Michal Spigiel.
Barry, P. and Read, S., 2014. Teampall Shetric, Co. Leitrim: the Shannon Group extensions, Irish Speleology, 21, 48-57.
Drew, D., 2004. A cave database for for the Republic of Ireland. Trinity College: Dublin. Available at: <http://www.ubss.org.uk/irishcaves/irishcaves.php>
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