Dates: October 26th to 28th 2012
Shortly after sundown the first cars carrying scruffy cavers began to trickle down the main street of Drumshanbo, a sleepy town mostly populated by sheep farmers and publicans. But ‘twas not the Friday night mart session that lured the caving population of Ireland to the Ramada Hotel but the 28th SUICRO symposium. With it came the promise of a weekend of erudite talks, jovial anecdotes and solemn discussion of pertinent caving matters. As the first cavers strode across floor of the hotel reception merriment and laughter seeped through the door of the pub and it’sbeery airs greeted our nostrils, tempting us in. The liquid loosened our lips, the talk became easy as the hands of the clock slipped into the morning.
Those that rose the next morning found their way into an upstairs meeting room for the annual SUI AGM. A new committee was voted in to guide Irish caving for the coming year. Once business was concluded the cavers split up, most to spend the day cosseted by the bubbles of the hot tub, but perversely some chose to go caving. Several cars headed up onto Geevagh in neighbouring Sligo to explore the deep pots there and run workshops on surveying and cave photography. Others motored into more familiar territory in Cavan and Fermanagh and a few of those in the know headed further up into Leitrim to explore some hot leads beyond Manorhamilton.
Later in the evening we reconvened in Drumshanbo for the evening’s talks. First up was this author, who humbly presented his ongoing work in South Tipperary. Following on from this was a presentation by Gaelan Eliffe, describing his most recent visit to Dachstein as part of the Dachstein Expedition group. The impressive photography of Axel Hack was on show, including some stunning shots of ice-flows in caves. Next up was the Largy talk by Al Kennedy and Éabha Lankford who covered the recent survey and exploration work in Leitrim by the Shannon group.
Perhaps the highlight of the night was when, midway through the Largy talk, a young lady, not appropriately attired for the cold weather outside, burst through the door of the function room and loudly enquired if she was ‘late for ye boys’. Once it was established that no caver had ordered a stripper the young lady left to find the room where her services were required. The Largy talk was resumed and was crowned with the announcement that earlier that day a Shannon Group party had extended Deep Pot on Largy, deepening it past the 100m barrier to an estimated 110m depth, bringing it into the top 10 deepest caves in Ireland. The final talk of the night was an hour and a half long epic by Brian McCoitir and Stephen ‘Jock’ Read who recounted the previous Christmas’s Irish expedition to Papua New Guinea. For this remarkable enterprise, six Irish cavers and a single (honorary Irish) German caver spent three weeks in the jungle north of Mount Bosavi, ultimately surveying 7km of cave passage in 25 caves. The expedition sounded like a remarkable experience, the speakers describing the massive passages, life in the rainforest, the welcoming locals and the myriad strange creatures that inhabited both the jungle and the caves. Special mention goes to Stephen McCullagh, who recounted a terrifying ordeal where he awoke in his hammock to find he was sharing it with some alien creature. After tentatively feeling about to see what it was, Stephen grabbed the creature in a desperate attempt to prevent injury or even death. The creature fought back, and the impassioned roars from Stephen woke the entire camp. Several people rushed to his aid, only to find that he had discovered the true nature of the creature. It was his own arm – having fallen asleep in an awkward position it was utterly benumbed and had succeeded in petrifying it’s owner.
The following day more official business was covered in the form of the ICRO AGM and the open forum. Upon the open forum’s conclusion the cavers retreated from the main hall, some convening meetings, others chose to go caving, but most returned to the hot tub for a second day’s slow cooking. Those that did go caving, were treated to elevated water levels, unsurprising given the October bank holiday’s status as the wettest weekend of the year. The hot tub dwellers were much in envy.
The second night’s round of talks was begun by Aileen Connors, who rounded up about two years worth of assorted explorations in various parts of the Northwest, testament to the Shannon Group’s wide-ranging work in the area. Hot on her heels was Steph Dwyer’s Picos talk, following up on her talk the previous year in Doolin. The Picos impressed greatly, both in terms of the fine caves presented to us and the excellent potential that exists in the area. The final talk of the night was given by Jim Warny, describing his recent cave diving work in both Clare and Galway. While his year was largely spoiled by inclement weather he managed assaults on both Pollaloughabo and Fergus River Cave, showing fine videos of his explorations.
Talks concluded, all that remained was to announce the winners of the photography competition and to host the quiz. In the end a mostly DIT party were the victors, with the help of a hired goon from Queens. And so, another fine SUICRO drew to a close, many congratulations to the organisers Stephen McCullagh and Aileen Connors and the best of luck to next year’s organisers.