Fermanagh/Monaghan trip 21-22 July 2013

The Drought, or, the Petie-Hasn't-Caved-in-Ages trip to Leitrim, Fermanagh and Monaghan, 20-21 July 2013

DIT Cavers: Stephen 'Lame-Duck Presidenté' Brandon, Stephen 'Graduate Steve' Bourke, Peter Francis Dunhill De Barra and Clodagh Whatsherface.

 We made for the borderlands on Saturday morning, since our recently-deposed President was busy on Friday. (We understand he was enjoying a 'bunga bunga' party on the Bray Sea Scouts superyacht when the engine failed, leaving him adrift in Bray harbour.) Saturday can be remembered as the fateful day Met Éireann declared a drought after fifteen days unsullied by any more than 0.1mm of rainfall, and a continuing heatwave. Vegetation was wilting and turning brown, newspapers caught fire in direct sunlight, and Cavan County Council was constructing a massive sandcrawler outside Belturbet so that local government might survive the catastrophic desertification to come.

Naturally we hoped to save ourselves. We headed straight for the Claddagh Glen, and put on wetsuits in the car park to appreciative whoops from passing motorists before marching ourselves bare-chested to the entrance to Cascades. We made terrible time, barely making it past the entrance series before hitting bingo hour and turning around. That's when the unremarkable trip became one on which I intend to make some long-winded remarks.

On our way back, we came across an ICRO rescue dump which had been there for a rather long time indeed. Along with the largest Daren drum I've ever seen, there were a couple of ammo boxes painted in ambulance colours. One of the ammo boxes had boring first aid stuff in it, and I'm assuming the Daren Drum had the makings of a field hospital under the top layer of bandages.

The other ammo box was a dump of emergency rations. The defeat of the dessicant packet left the food defenceless, and the packets swelled grotesquely with moisture. We can date the manky time capsule at about 30-35 years old based on the labelling – the latest copyright on any soup packet was 1978, and the decimal halfpenny wasn't used after 1984. Plus, the 'One Man One Pan' Cheese and Onion (Cheese and onion what exactly?) and various quick soups in the box didn't even have use by dates, which makes them older than me at the very least. Nice.

The human impact on caves includes everything from the bolting at pitchheads to the smoothing passage of a thousand cordura arses on the limestone. With all the talk of shiny flowstone, we don't often consider the other crap that ends up in our caves as anything other than litter. Good caving country is usually rugged land inhabited by the expedient and removed from such wimpy urban luxuries as municipal refuse collections. This can mean an aggressive household policy of waste segregation, composting and reduction at source; or just dumping it in the nearest pristine speleological environment. For example, Clare's Poll Cragreagh is famed for a gentleman's boot petrified in calcite before the second pitch (UBSS, 1969: 167), and no visit is complete without visiting the cache of retro domestic waste upstream of the entrance. Cave pollution is bad news, but even the cleanest holes feature bits of fertiliser bags washed in during floods.

The caving community's preparations for nuclear war couldn't save us from the hunger gnashing at our bellies. That evening we scrounged what food we could in what remained in the scorched lands above ground. The local warlord Quinn fled the the region several months before. Without the employment of his works and the harsh rule of his lieutenants, the land was reverting to base anarchy. No meat could be found for miles, save for the few sausages and vegetables a fuel trader spared us. These made a passable meal, and we made camp for the night.

Creevy Cave in Co. Monaghan was our target for Sunday. We travelled many miles before breaking our fast, as food remained scarce. Creevy took the mantle of the longest cave in Monaghan after making a pair of cave divers very unhappy about its refusal to sump off. When Al Kennedy and the late Artur Kozlowski returned to survey it with Robin Sheen, they noticed evidence of human activity – including half a millstone sitting in the middle of the main streamway.

Creevy is still enthusiastically aquatic in nature, with plenty of low crawls through canal passages half full of water at swimming-pool temperature. El Presidenté got the willies when he was shown evidence of an airbell; it seems he hadn't realised that most of the other caves he's been in flood to the ceiling too.

The really cool part of Creevy is the souterrain. Al and Artur kidnapped some archaeologists and forced them to take samples, leading to the conclusion that the cave had been used as far back as the middle ages as a place of refuge. Pottery fragments indicated its use during the Cromwellian period too, making Creevy a prime spot to wait out the chaos of the midday heat on the surface.

Clodagh was less fortunate. Laid low by the attack of some fell tropical insect, she stayed with the car while we took refuge. Brave soul. It was clear that the locals were suffering the effects of the heat. After subtly hinting at his abundance of road frontage, a passing bicyclist enquired about Clodagh's marital status with a glint in his eye. How long, we wondered, until the chaos of the heat and food shortages led to base debauchery and polygamy? Would the men in control of the prime farmland seek their base toll from desperate travellers?

We made a retreat towards Dublin, stopping only to raid a doctor's surgery for Clodagh's ailment. In Dublin, where sea fog and air conditioning seemed to be keeping at least some of the population sane, we might make a stand.