© Yorkshire Ramblers' Club. Reproduction of this article is not permitted.
However, short extracts from it may be used, for non-commercial purposes, provided their source is fully cited, acknowledged and referenced as:
Roberts, E.E. (1947) The Enniskillen Gondoliers. Yorkshire Ramblers' Club Journal Volume 7 Number 24: pp144-152. Leeds: YRC.
THE ENNISKILLEN GONDOLIERS
By The Editor.
Ireland for good weather ! Since Alpine summers have turned to producing spells of cloud comparable with western Britain, with Norway and Austria no better, the only hope is Ireland. Nor are the Enniskillen caves exhausted.
The expeditions of '35 and '36 had added two fine river caverns to the Marble Arch series, while the value of a boat had been proved in Wales in '37. We had explored this one series more thoroughly, but otherwise had not extended the work of Brodrick, Baker, Hill and Rule on the limestone N. of Cuilcagh, while they had drawn blanks south of Belcoo.
So in August, 1938, another party crossed to the county of famous fighting men with considerable misgivings about camping in long grass amid midges and other pests. July was a dreadful month, and the Friday before Bank Holiday an afternoon of evil omen. The five of us were split up at Heysham between four boats, but hundreds were left behind till one vessel could hurry back. A miserable night, no mill-pond sea this time.
By train Nelstrop and I reached Enniskillen. The storm had been terrific ; the hay was afloat in the fields, and the problem of putting up tents and going out to tea in a res pectable condition loomed large. But hurrah for Ulster ! As we ran into the station the clouds were clearing, Cuilcagh and Benaughlin stood up blue on the horizon and the sun came out. Gowing met us with the news that Mr. Barbour of Killesher House had found us a good dry camp site near Cladagh Bridge. Fred Booth, Godley and Marsden were in good time for lunch at the Imperial and we drove over the long straight lane, now a fine metalled road, to a delightful spot. Another trip in Godley's big car brought in everything, even a bell tent and a great box of Gowing's containing luxuries such as camp chairs, which we laughed at, but used. Four more tents made a striking camp—in Free State colours, Mr. Barbour pointed out. There was Cymry to float us over the pools, and enough ladders we hoped. From clegs and midges we were singularly free.
Off went Gowing and I to tea with the Earl of Enniskillen at Florence Court, in delightful grounds with fine trees. The Earl could not be persuaded to come underground, but suggested hopeful localities, such as the Pigeon Pots, N.E. of Cuilcagh, and arranged for a keeper to guide us ; there might too be something near Brookfield. It is curious that neither Lord Enniskillen nor the Rector mentioned caves on the south of Cuilcagh, as does In Praise of Ulster. May they be there !
Next morning's plan to carry ladders east to above Brook-field and work back, went well till we emerged from the Marble Arch woods into bright sunlight and reached Pollnagollum, one of two thickets near to Legg Farm. Now Pollnagollum is quite a generic name for Irish pot-holes, meaning " Pot of the Pigeons" ; besides the two N. of Cuilcagh, there are the Coolarkan Cave by Boho, the long Clare Pollnagollum, and doubtless many others. Poll is phonetic Irish spelling (Bartlett considers the vowel short) and Poul is one of the quaint and difficult English spellings so common in Ireland. For instance no one would suspect that lough stands for the Irish and Scottish word loch. The former is a fantastic spelling which should be discarded.
The six could not resist the temptation of scrambling down into the cool green of the open hole. Ahead under an arch, the big cavern closed in after a few yards up steep rubble to a vertical face of solid rock, no connection here with Poll-thanacarra. An obvious hole in daylight led under a huge boulder by a 24 ft. ladder pitch to the top of a scree slope in a chamber 55 ft. by 7 ft. with a faint roar in the distance. The further end after a short climb closed in, but up a crack came a louder roar ; at the bottom Nelstrop went through a tight hole into a short passage leading to water.
It was a great discovery ! A few yards off, the stream foamed out of a long deep pool in which there seemed only such current as Cymry could stem ; downstream we went up into a steeply sloping cavern which can only be separated from the ladder chamber by a very thin wall, but after following the water past a first block among boulders it disappeared hopelessty.
Very pleased, we lunched out in the sun, and then, after a visit to the Pollasumera swallet (also called Pollton), headed
across the boggy pastures, dotted with shake-holes. On a delightful dry " island " we all sank willingly in the grass for a rest in the hot sun. After a bit, Godley, Marsden and I pulled ourselves together, took lamps only, and struggled on to the south of the Brookfield knoll. There were endless deep shake-holes, many full of trees ; soon only one man went down each, the others sank in the heather. At the beck just past the knoll, 380 yds. E.S.E. of point 912, Marsden drew a blank in a promising swallet, and Godley reported eighty feet of passage in the next hole.
Back on the " island " the whole party picked up their loads and sought Rattling Hole close under Gortmaconnell Rock, a good deep pot-hole amid a dense thicket swarming with midges. An intricate route was forced through the thorns, and with hand and body lines Nelstrop went down the rift over awful mud right into an amazing collection of old iron, tools and incredible masses of boots. In turn all stood by the ropes in a martyrdom of midges, and went down to the choked bottom. The other Rattling Hole to the north is a trifle.
On Monday the Skreen Hill Passage was done in record time, and the rubber boat proved the final pool to be 44 yds. long with walls going straight down except for a very low arch. We also boated from C to D in Marble Arch (see Brodrick's map) and lowered a rope through cracks in the roof. Then on to Cradle Hole, and the same bad luck on the end pool, climbing out by Polnagapple and its awful thickets.
Tuesday was too cool for a bathe, but we went out in Gowing's folding canoe, two at a time, round an island a mile or so out in Loch Macnean, while Cymry performed amusing antics near the shore.
Wednesday was simply glorious. At Rourkefield under Benaughlin keeper Ford met us and assured us that the Pigeon Pots were really worth-while holes of incredible depth. Up the dry valley is a delightful two miles' walk to Legg na Hurry (or Legacurragh), a marked gap in the eastern lime stone escarpment. Once on top where there are grand views of the end of Cuilcagh and of the cone of Benaughlin, we stumbled through deep heather in an area of sink-holes filled with bushes, promising much. Ford guided us past one pot to another into which a stream fell. One ladder down the first hit exactly the right place on a ridge of scree dividing a big open pot, rather earthy, deepest at the E. end (84 ft.), where the floor finally rises under an overhang.
The ladder lead into the second pot is 47 ft. ; the water enters through a crack 13 ft. deep, and runs along twenty yards to a smaller hole. There it goes into darkness, sharply left, down a 20 ft. climb and then right in a fine passage in cherty limestone, giving splendid working room at the top of a pitch. Gowing went out and we took off the bottom ladder, but the pitch was much deeper than we thought. This meant retreat from Pigeon Pot II.
III. looked a giant, much like Gable Pot on Leek Fell, and Booth scrambled down a steep grass slope over twenty feet. A trial trip on two ladders tied to a big tree showed a really fine deep pot. The ladders on a double rope were worked well below the edge and Fred's next trip ended in a shout that he was down at 79 ft., just over a hundred from the tree. To the north was a fine ascending chamber, to the south a close crack. All the main fissures about here bear 15° to 25°(true).
Now up with the ladders and dolce far niente in the heather and sunshine. Hurrah for Ulster ! The sink-dotted area was so large optimism reigned. Would there not be small holes in the thickets ? But we found nothing on the way back.
We were there again in the morning with our only other ladder. It was a gloriously hot trek to No. II, where from the heather-covered watercourse the short ladder took us to a ledge ten feet from the floor. On the ideal second pitch the two ladders were lowered well down. The first man cleaned masses from the walls, passed the pinnacle from which we had contemplated climbing and landed at 74 ft., total depth about 140 ft. A man crawling into the north end, a muddy grotto, was clearly in sight from the top, south end a narrow crack.
Back in the sunshine, I pointed out there was just time to load up, drive fifteen miles to Boho and explore the little cave there. But for once Gowing went on strike and we drifted back to the cars and camp and a visit from Mr. Morrell of Enniskillen who reminded us that the farms are nowadays in the hands of many owners, and so while we had visited the
Pigeon Pots by the Earl's permission, elsewhere we were on other people's lands. However on Legg Farm the owner was a good friend of. Mr. Barbour's.
Now to see what Cymry could do in Pollnagollum. The current was nothing to worry about, so away went Gowing trailing a cord, on and on, till the string was tied to Alpine line as he stopped. A grand straight tunnel, bearing 190° true, but it was doubtful if the boat could be pulled back empty owing to rocks in the fairway and stalactites at the far end. String and line were halved, and Gowing with one half went off again trailing the other ; it was hopelessly short. " Off to the surface," was the cry, " borrow something from the farmer—drive to Enniskillen and buy string." But first I said, remembering all the dead-ends we had found, "Is it worth more than a visit one at a time ? " I made the fifty yard voyage, landed, and was staggered. It was a vaster place than Upper Cradle Hole and a full dress expedition. Out we came, and the farmer handed over his cart lines to be twisted, on promise of my Alpine line.
Down below again, Gowing went, over and, crouching at the water's edge, he and Booth found a clear fairway on which to drag Cymry cautiously back. So one by one we all paddled over the deep water. We were then in a splendid chamber with singular rock formations and a double swing of a wide watercourse. On the right bank you can follow a solid wall, on the other you mount high over huge boulders. Passing through a great oxbow we came to a great " beehive " of stalagmite and then to a second big pool. Three returned for the boat which had to be carried with great care, since if ripped only one of us could have done a fifty yard swim. While waiting, the other two climbed the " beehive " and ascended first one and then another long unstable slope of mud and rock so high that the roofs must have been close to the surface.
The second pool, about 250 yards from the first, is simple ; fifty yards on over pebbles the grand high passage ceased in a third pool, bearing still 190°, with a low roof and curving into the distance. Gowing paddled forty yards, landed, and went on a hundred yards in another grand passage. Meanwhile we went through a hole on the right bank into a high chamber with a floor above the end of the pool. A rock face can be climbed forty feet. By the water's edge, I was in one place, Booth in another, and Godley floating in Cymry close at hand, but unable to get near owing to submerged rocks. The boat might have been dragged up on a line and carried back, but for the last over and first back it would have been a tricky job, and the Y.R.C. has no use for a divided party. So we retreated to try again next year with a fleet and an army.
Whitsun 1939. Shall we ever know such weather again ! Chubb was right when he said early mist meant heat. Ten whole days without a cloud ! The fleet was Cymry and Red Hand, the army twelve, Fred Booth, Nelstrop, Godley, Marsden, and the writer (Gowing had to stand down for the first time) with Chubb (the President), Davidson, H. Armstrong, Davis Burrow, Stringer, Bowling and King. We slept and ate in empty rooms of Barbour's great farmhouse, and cannot be too grateful to him for his hospitality and kindness.
On Saturday we had to hire a lorry to take all the stuff out from Enniskillen and after that a crowd went into Pollasumera. When Marsden and I later followed the beck, we found it dry over its whole course ; hence the permanent supply of the Cladagh Glen rising (the cascades) cannot be from Pollasumera, as in dry weather there is nothing to come. The bulk of the flood water into Pollasumera must pour through Pollnagollum to the Skreen Hill Passage and out through the Marble Arch.
Booth led six men into Marble Arch Cavern while Nelstrop, Marsden, Godley, Davidson, King and I tackled Pollnagollum. The two boats made work safe and easy ; the curving third pool gave a very interesting voyage in a much eroded and stalactite hung tunnel with low roof and many underwater snags. Beyond, we struck a vast and very lofty hall, not less than twenty feet wide for over two hundred yards, bearing 165°, the stream finally disappearing into the wall on the right. At the end we went up scree to a narrow passage with a fine side chamber and down a rock climb to a side pool, which was boated to make sure it went nowhere. Then we went twenty-five yards to a closing crack and climbed a stalagmite wall into a narrow passage, with an ascending side grotto, ending after eighty yards. We had done about 700 yards.
Nelstrop took photos while King and I ferried back and chained 53 yards to the second pool which we crossed on a submerged ledge, 20 yards long ; then we chained for 250 yards, cutting the corners of the final meanders. Before the company were over the long pool, Marsden and I climbed a long slope of horrid mud to a vertical wall somewhere near the surface. Bearings and chain gave a rough survey which places the watercourse away from the next big shake-hole, Polldownlog, but well on to Pollasumera.
Out in the sun, we found the others had thoroughly explored Marble Arch Cave with the area between holes C and E of the plan, and laddered Pollthanacarra—full of corruption, to be inspected only from the last rungs.
Nelstrop and Godley made good time on Monday for the long trek up Cuilcagh, so that the former might get away. Marsden, King and I took Mr. Barbour up the Skreen Hill branch of Marble Arch, next picked up the ladders left for us by Booth's party then inside Pollnagollum—so well hidden they took half-an-hour to find—and carried in the hot sun to Gortmaconnell Farm. Here Brodrick's distance and bearing placed the Pot in a large sink, though he did not mention the farm. There was something odd too in the way the family acceded to our request to explore the pot ; it wasn't there, but a dead cow was !
With our loads we struggled over a field and swept the sinks beyond rather hopelessly. Marsden and I sank exhausted in the shade, but it was King's first search and he went on tirelessly till he found the pot. Now a recollection of delight, sun and heather on top, cool shade at the bottom of the 60 ft. ladder climb, sheer joy. As the day drew on, we rose and made the first ascent with ladders of Gortmaconnell Rock. Another siesta, then straight down to Pollnagollum, where lay all the others but Chubb and Burrow, who had gone to cook the dinner. The party was home two hours late !
Tuesday meant farewells, and for Marsden and me a sample of the grand boating on Loch Erne.- Later in the week we found the elusive Legnabrocky Pot on the far slope of the Hill from Legg, close to Monastir Sink, but had no ladders with us. Then on and on, over miles of bad going up the dry Pollasumera beck to the Pigeon Pot area, its west side more defined than we expected and the three pots plainly in the weakest place. Once we found a pool full of Bogbean—why only one pool among so many ? Then we tried for Polliniska, a mile or so off over a region of peat crowded with busy diggers.
The heat was so trying and the neighbourhood so un promising we retreated to Legg-na'-Hurry and swept through the heather on its left slope, drawing blank after blank. It was a day on which one could go on walking and walking between good rests, but alas, it drew to a close and we climbed to a path which runs along the edge of the limestone platform above Florence Court, with a fine view north. So we came home to the abundant provisions left by the main party.
Now for the Noon's Hole area. It has been assumed that Baker, Hill, Wingfield and Kentish staying at Derrygonelly and Boho had worked it completely, but as I found on my last afternoon driving across to Loch Melvin, there is a great deal more to be said. The great cliff of Knockmore, under and past which the road climbs, is a stupendous thing ; in a gorge like Cheddar, it would be famous. The hachured one-inch Ordnance map does not show the abrupt scarp of the Noon's Hole platform. Actually I consider a great area of Sheet 44 has not been properly drawn ; the Six-Inch map is good, but many names of farms and hamlets must be filled in.
On the first Friday I drove up to Noon's Hole, walked to Pollanaffrin, and outside the intake above the upper farm found a definite possibility, a stream cave close under the surface. Then I climbed on to the main platform, to the south and viewed a shallow basin where a swallet was marked on the map. There was no stream into it, but rocks and bushes spoke at once of a pot-hole. As I was rejoicing over my discovery one of the men busy all round cutting peat came to look at a stranger. He had no name for it, so being just inside Reyfad townland, Reyfad Pot it must be.
I went on to Murphy's Hole in a great copse, to Rattle Hole looking difficult, to Ivy Hole not worth putting on the map, and via a gill full of thorns to Oweyglass Caves, great holes seen from the drive up, but very small affairs full of boots. Why these great masses ? Boots burn well.
Marsden and I came past Boho, much cheered by the extension of tarring on the long dusty lanes, and climbed the gill to Pollanaffrin with ropes and one ladder. The pot was soon done ; the waterfall is from the swallet by the farm ; in a descending rift we found a small crawl passage.
Then up the hill we went in great heat, dodging a grass fire, to Reyfad Pot, exactly half-a-mile S.W., and due S. of Noon's Hole. We chose a good lead and made the place safe. Those who come after the pioneers are rarely grateful! They ought to be, for soon the working place was not the same and most of the ladder lead had gone down. A pot 37 ft. deep, on its south side a great arch with a great shaft inside. Marsden kept on the rope and tested it thoroughly, one lucky stone sounded like two hundred feet; we were well rewarded.
At Murphy's Hole, once through the bushes, we found an easy climb down a grassy rift into a picturesque open pot, 50 ft. deep, but Rattle Hole was serious, accessible only by a rift going down in vertical chimneys. The third was extremely smooth, and the safe way was to ladder this, but the whole shaft was in full view, it was late now, so we departed. I hesitate to suggest a heresy but there is nothing of a grass filled rift in Rattle Hole, only stout support from a rope. Was it Murphy's Hole which Llo3'd Praeger went down ? .
On Marsden's last day we drove to the Coolarkan Pollna gollum, lunched in the grateful shade of the huge mouth, and did the 150 yards walk to a big block of stones, as reported by Jameson in his 1896 article. Then back to Boho and into the curious labyrinth below the road. We came out in the dry bed upstream and not in the gill across the road ; the cave has three entrances, not two. We were too annoyed to go back and do the other part, but drove to the old place below Pollanaffrin and after carefully covering the paintwork of the car took the boat into the thickets and began a dreadful struggle down the gill to Arch Cave, leaving such a trail in a line of weakness we got back with ease. At the magnificent arch we blew up the boat and launched it on the pool close inside. All questions were soon settled—not a ghost of a chance of further discoveries.
Sunday I spent some hours on top of Benaughlin ; Monday I took the Rector and Mr. Barbour into Skreen Hill Passage, wading out of Marble Arch with ease. Keep the right bank till forced off. then it is shallowest in the middle.