What is it about? If you don't know, visit a show cave such as Marble Arch in Fermanagh, Ailwee in Clare, Mitchelstown in Cork, Crag Cave in Kerry.

These are all well-lit and you only walk through big passages and halls, but you can get a feel for the beauty of the stalactites, stalagmites and other calcite features as well as wonder at the many passages which you can see from the main route.

Real caving offers the same basic enjoyment, but much heightened. You are in a small group, often crawling through small passages which suddenly come into large halls, where your torch can hardly reach the roof; you can explore the kind of side passage you could only look at in the show cave, there is always the chance of finding something new!

There are downsides too, you may have to wriggle through low passages and you will certainly get extremely muddy and probably wet! (The DCU Caving Club(*) has a good website about caving basics).

Caving has one great advantage over all other countryside activities in this country; it still continues to be possible to explore, to discover a new bit of Ireland which has not only never been seen before, but whose very existence was unknown.

This is true of no other countryside activity, even the rock-climber creating a new route is only putting hand and foot in positions on a cliff that generations of local people passed by. The cave explorer finds new passages and cave halls that were quite unknown.

How to Get Involved

Caving is clearly a sport you don't attempt on your own.

The national body (32 county) the Speleological Union of Ireland(*) will help you find a club or a group to join.

For your first trips, you will be loaned basic gear (hard hat, light with battery on a belt) but you need to come prepared with old clothes, gloves and the like.

The SUI will provide insurance and has a Journal. It provides training but not at basic level.

Where to Cave?

Where are the caves? You will find them wherever there is exposed limestone, because they are formed by slightly acid rainwater percolating the rock, dissolving it, and down the centuries making underground water courses. As the ceilings of such underground rivers collapse, high chambers are formed. Where you explore, of course, is in dry passages above the water table, or beside streams, but in some caves there is the risk after heavy rain of sudden and potentially dangerous flooding.

The main cave areas are:

  • The Burren in Co Clare. Here is the biggest cave in Ireland Pollnagollum/Pollelva, formed by swallow holes where the runoff from the Slieve Elva shale reaches the exposed limestone. There are many caves here, including Pol an Ionain, with one of the largest stalactites in Europe.
  • Cavan-Fermanagh. There are many fine caves here, including the true source of the Shannon and Reyfad Pot, at 300m, the deepest cave in Ireland. (A "pot" is a cave with a vertical entrance which may need ropes or ladders to enter).
  • East Cork has many caves, though nothing as outstanding as in the other two areas.

One exciting and most dangerous part of the sport is cave diving, where cavers with scuba equipment dive through passages flooded to the roof in the search of further dry passages beyond - leave that to the experts!

A Risk Sport

It is obvious that caving is a risk sport. A caver with a broken ankle 100m inside a cave will definitely not be easy to evacuate to the surface. The body which deals with such accidents (and any others involving people or livestock falling to caves or inured in them) is the Irish Cave Rescue Organisation. They are all volunteers who have followed the training courses which ICRO organise, and they are ready for call-outs anywhere in the country.


Irish Speleological Union:
DCU Caving Club:

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