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The Burren: Caves in the Burren

The Burren is Ireland's most important cave area. This strange hundred square mile limestone "desert", where only one river reaches the sea by an overground course, has more active stream caves than any other part of Ireland. Over 35 miles of cave passages have actually been surveyed. The typical Clare cave is a long winding passage, usually much higher than its width, with a stream occupying the cave floor. Pollnagollum Cave, on the eastern side of Slieve Elva, with its branch passages and tributaries, engulfing streams from off Slieve Elva, can be explored for nearly seven miles.

Aillwee Cave is the Burren's most well known cave and is open to the public.

Poll-an-Ionain (Doolin Cave) is situated near Lisdoonvarna. In 1952, the Great Stalactite was discovered at the cave, measuring 7.3 metres (23 feet) in length and is recognised as being the longest stalactite in the Northern hemisphere. The Great Stalactite at Poll-an-Ionain (Doolin Cave) has been open to the public since 2006.

Pollnagollum is sited on the east side of Slieve Elva in the townland of Caherbullog and is a wide funnel-shaped hole about a hundred feet deep. A fixed rope enables one to scramble down some seventy feet on to a sloping area covered in ferns and mossy stones. To the left under a cliff is the main shaft which must be descended by rope ladders.

On the right, an orifice in the rock leads into a dropping passage called the Gunman's Cave. Both shaft and cave bring you about thirty feet to the main stream passage below. At the bottom of Pollnagololum you are met with the muttering and ripling of a stream in its stony bed. The high walls are polished and eroded by centuries of water action.

In places, deep pools send the explorer up in to wall ledges, which one can traverse to avoid the deep water. At various points enchanting side grottoes open off the main passage, replete with marvellous formations of stalactite and stalagmite.

The Great Stalactite at Pol an Ionain
The Great Stalactite at Pol an Ionain

About five hundred yards from the entrance the gallery opens out into an almost circular cavity into which a waterfall pours from high up on the wall, filling the place with spray.

Almost a mile from the bottom of Pollnagollum, the junction is reached. Here another swift stream comes down a side passage and the combined waters can be followed in a roughly southern direction for about a mile, until the roof becomes so low as to make progress impossible.

The west side if Slieve Elva has a number of interesting caves, including the ninety-foot dry shaft of Pollaphuca near Ballysally, and the linear caves of Polldugh and Pollballiny. There is an interesting cave at Faunarooska, which has a total depth of nearly 280 feet.

At Kilcorney, six miles east of Lisdoonvarna, is the Cave of the Wild Horses. This complex cave, which contains some internal potholes, often fills up with water and floods out on to the valley floor above.

It must be stressed, however, that the caves in the Burren are not developed and can only be explored by those possessed of the necessary equipment and experience in cave exploration.


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