Coolagh River Cave, County Clare, West Coast of Ireland

Length:              5285metres

Depth:               72 metres

Catchment:         6 km square

Date:                 1316/94

Cave Dwellers:    Jo Wilby, Linda and Stuart Johnson, Bob Johnson, Roz Berry, Celia Berry, Richard Hill, Audrey Wotsit (surname failure)

Arriving at Doolin at Conners Bar on Saturday night, precisely at 1O.4Opm Stuart rushed off into the bar to order as much Guinness as he could drink (four pints) before we got chucked out. To be fair to Stuart he also ordered me four pints, knowing full well that I couldn’t drink four pints in twenty minutes. But being a gentleman he assisted both Linda and I to polish off the dark, smooth medicine required to adjust to Irish life.

Feeling suitably relaxed and being blessed with good weather we had to make our first team decision (scary!), which cave should we rush off and explore first?
Unanimously it had to be Coolagh River Cave.

Monday morning at 9am, (Sunday being a day of rest and had to be respected with the Guinness prayer) the Johnsons were awake and out of the tent (yes it’s true), and even better making my breakfast. Linda always feels sorry for poor unfortunates who can’t cook (bless her) or for those idol gits that can’t be bothered. All ready and dead keen off we went to the cave. The changing ritual consisted of the usual flash of white bodies at the side of the road, whilst debating which entrance to go in. Stuart and Linda had gone in at the top entrance (Polldonough North B8) during the summer of 1984. This made little difference, we still went through the ceremonial wandering all over the fell. Their memory of the entrance location was a faded blip, probably drowned in a sea of alcohol in the ten year interval. Fortunately Bob tripped up in the heavy foliage and found the entrance.

Being eaten to death by midges Stuart lead the party into a wet, slimy, muddy crawl which later dried out to a rift type passage. Bob and I followed at the rear and quickly came across a people choke. Minutes into the cave Stuart was stuck Stuart couldn’t remember this bit his memory had faded over the years. Truth be known he probably didn’t have a beer belly then and his fine figure of a man just slipped down the rift. Richard watching anxiously was helpless in Stuarts predicament and thought better of pushing him down the rift, in fear of having to push him back up. Linda, totally unfamiliar with her surroundings repeatedly communicated to Stuart the same message “I don’t remember this.”

Stuart payed little attention other than reversing his position. Meanwhile Roz had got herself into a difficult position and had got cramp in her hip. Calling out to Bob, who could do little from the back but express comforting words, (it worked) Roz was able to turn herself around which was just as well as the team from the front gave the orders to abort mission and head on out. Back in the fresh air, a short walk across the landscape and in the bottom entrance. “Take Two’ Delegated by Stuart, Richard being at the front (unfortunately for him) was put in charge. Not having read the guidebook and even worse being an outdoors instructor, would naturally conclude the lack of knowledge to lead the party.

Irrespectively, Richards lack of leadership skills provided us with a suitable target for jovial aggravation. Richard had this unique ability to follow the wrong passage or even better go down the same passage three times! I could hear this echo from Linda at the front commenting, “haven’t been down here before.” Bob paying no attention at all said definitely not. Bob went off following a low, grotty crawl and
surprise, surprise no-one followed him. Meanwhile the rest of us were crawling along this sharp, tortuous passage. Bob realising he was on his own rejoined the rest of the group. Richard leading on we went down a wet passage which was low and waist deep. He stopped the group and communicated that this was not the way on. The water was getting deeper and the passage closed down and as brave as he was he wasn’t taking a step further. Hum!

The entertainment value was bordering on maximum points at
Richards expense, whilst regrouping down the passage for another team discussion. Audrey, who was on medical advise not to crawl on her knees, could not face crawling down another sharp passage and gave the signal for retreat. Richard being the dutiful partner and deflated by constant piss take found escorting Audrey out into the beautiful sunshine an opportunity not to be missed. Equally the Berry sisters (Roz and Celia) saw their chance to get in an early pint and joined the retreating party.

Then there were four. Linda, Stuart, Bob and I were on our fourth trip down the same passage and decided to carry on from where Richard had left off. Stuart was now in charge, delegated by Linda and I. This was in fear of Bobs irresponsibility in the absence of Roz and also his light had just gone out. Back down the wet passage into a low bedding and we were on our way to caverns measureless to man. Stuarts comments of Richard being a wimp provided us with further ammunition to give Richard the yellow card for the rest of the week. For the record, as I mentioned earlier, both Stuart and Linda had been down here before and couldn’t remember the way on either!

From the low bedding crawl the cave opened up into a superb large streamway passage. A canyon with small cascades and interesting pools. Just a minor observation I would like to mention, you could see flood debris on the roof 50ft up! Not a cave to do in wet weather. Easy walking along the passage we came to a large pool approximately six feet across and 15 feet deep, this was one of those interesting pools. Stuart didn’t tell us about this until he had gone across and talked Bob into it, who incidentally can’t swim. My instruction from Stuart was, “Just go for it!”
Launching across the pool I was about six inches from safety and frantically waving my arms around in the water, Stuart found this quite entertaining. Grabbing the ledge I was back on my feet. When Linda launched across in her home made oversuit it completely inflated (bouyancy-aid) and she floated across. By this time Stuart was in complete hysterics watching Lindas Michelin man appearance deflate into the Linda we all know and love. Onward, we continued into a very easy walking passage which was noticeably very dark. At the bottom you got the feeling you were a long way from safety and in particular Linda constantly reminded us of the flood debris on the roof.

About turn. One obstacle on the way back, “The Pool”.

The return crossing was much more difficult as there was nothing to grab hold of and even worse the exit was up a small, smooth sided incline which narrowed at the far end. Bob, with great confidence, determined to traverse around the far wall and came to an abrupt stop with nothing else to grab hold of. Bob was suspended in mid crossing while Stuart went round the opposite side and threw himself to safety. Bob let go, paddling in the water for a bit, prior to Stuart helping him out. I got that dreaded feeling, I was next.

Stuart, standing at the top of the incline, instructed me that he would put his welly out for me to grab hold of while Bob held Stuart. Traversing around the right hand wall the moment came when I had to let go - SHIT. Before I knew it I was flaying around in the water like an idiot. Fortunately I bridged the sides as I couldn’t reach the welly anyway and Stuart and Bob helped to pull me out. Linda unfortunately being the last to go and watching my unstylish performance made a run for it and threw herself across the pool and was out in two seconds. This made my performance look like a complete over dramatised documentary. As you can imagine it gave Stuart, Bob and Linda something to laugh about and later took the opportunity to communicate to everyone else my specialised swimming techniques.

Travelling quickly through the cave and back down the same passage for the fifth and final time we were back out into glorious sunshine.

A superb trip, highly recommended in stable weather.

Jo Wilby


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