Symposium 25, Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare. 23 – 25 October 2009

This year’s venue was Hyland’s Hotel, right in the center of the village. As everyone checked in it was time for a few scoops. We had twelve kegs of Guinness to get thru so we decided to make headway. The t-shirts arrived after being located in John Sweeney’s bedroom and it wasn’t long before the frenzy began. The twenty female sizes sold out rapidly with the medium males in hot pursuit- what does this say about Irish cavers? It was great to see a big turn out of “mature” symposium veterans – Gareth Jones (former Irish correspondent for Descent), Maurice Neill and Kevin O’Hagen, the fabulous Dowd brothers and many more. The pints flowed till late into the night while some important ‘catching up’ was carried out.

Saturday morning dawned showery and blustery and the crowds descended for the SUI AGM. This kicked off only twenty minutes late at 10:20am, starting with the usual reports. There was some controversy during the Treasurers report when it appeared some €9,000 was ‘missing’….. was this the chairman’s slush fund? Once the funds were accounted for the meeting continued with reports on Membership and Insurance, training, and access and conservation. In general members were reminded to berespectful of landowners property and to ask permission prior to entering the area. Reyfad in the North and Poll na gCeim in the South remain strictly off limits. Matthew Parkes, SUI Librarian, requested help from members for sorting out the SUI library and cataloguing the journals, etc. Access to the library at the weekend is now seriously limited and any members wishing to use the facilities at this time must give plenty of prior notice. Minor changes to the Articles and memorandum of association were passed without a murmur, which left only the highlight of the elections to raise any controversy – but even these were soon over without so much as a vote. The top 3 positions fell to- Chairperson – Colin Bunce; Secretary – Una Donoghue; Treasurer – Duncan Foster

After the excitement of the SUI AGM people hit the fresh air or the shop upstairs. The shop was provided by Starless River and was well stocked with everything from caving over and under suits and climbing harnesses to the Viper light, which took the eyeballs out of many an unsuspecting poor individual who dared turn its full 420 lumens towards their face. Some went caving while others headed for a display and practice of self-rescue in the Burren Outdoor Education Center given by Eoin Lynch.

Following some fine fodder the talks started in the meeting room beginning with Michael Laumans from Germany. Michael gave a great presentation on caving in Laos and Iraq with some detailed maps and stunning pictures. Next was Matthew Parkes with a presentation on Underground Mine Exploration in Ireland. This contained photos and detailed descriptions of some of the mines in Ireland. Next up was Vanessa Johnston, presenting her thesis, in which she researched past climate change by analysing speolotherms. The highlight of this talk was an amazing mound of Romanian bat poo, which Vanessa was able to test to determine how long ago the bats started coming to the cave. One audience member felt he definitely wouldn’t like to meet the giant bat that had created the huge pile.

The artistic talent of cavers was displayed with an audiovisual composition, with music by Paul Butler and photos by Colin Bunce. Colin was then awarded a glass of vintage whiskey for being the only known person to attend all 25 previous symposiums for all three nights. Finally the mammoth raffle – prizes varied from a weekend break in Donegal or 50m of rope to a climbing harness or a bottle of wine. There were many winners, but none as lucky as Graham Prole who accepted the mystery prize of latex pontonnierres. These essentially looked like a giant condom. Apparently the French use them for deep water caving. Graham duly tried on the dashing oufit and did a lap of honour to the wild excitement of the crowd! When we could give away no more, the drinking continued in the bar until the wee hours….naturally.

However around 60 people turned up bright eyed and bushy tailed for the ICRO AGM on Sunday morning. This lasted for an hour and a half and a few changes were made to the ICRO top team:   Chairperson – Les Brown; Secretary – Stephen MacNamara ; Treasurer – Jason Masterson

Others took off caving, most to Faunarooska to avoid getting drowned, while Colin Bunce led a group wandering around East Poulacapple. When the daylight slipped away it was back to Hylands for some more talks. The night was kicked off by John Savage from UCC with a presentation on the interesting formations and aspects of Cloyne Cave, Co. Cork. John explained how the caves had formed, the reasons for the unusual shapes of the rock inside and how to lose a JCB down a hole in 3 easy steps. This talk was followed by Dave Hick who explained how easy it was to die of suspension trauma while SRTing in a cave. Everyone needed a drink to calm the nerves after that presentation!

A presentation from the two deepest Irish men followed with Tony Furnell and Steven McNamara describing their experiences in the worlds deepest cave in Georgia. They’re exploits managed to garner them an article in the ‘Irish News’, which took them down to Game Over point at 2191m.

Steve McCullagh of the Shannon Group finished the night with a talk on their new findings in the Shannon Cave. With impressive and extremely detailed surveys and photos of ‘totally traversable’ pitches they had the audience laughing until it was time to call an end to all the talks.

After a short break, which included some songs, the table quiz was started in the bar. There were eight rounds with questions varying from music and film to caving and the natural world. In the end two teams were in a tie break position and given three tie break questions. The question that made all the difference in the end was naming the horse who won this years L’Arc de Triomphe. With only one team getting ‘Sea the Stars’ the victorious team followed tradition and handed back the winnings as a donation to ICRO. More drinking followed until there could be no more and I have heard stories of cavers being extracted from the bar at 6am the following morning. And yes we did make it all the way through all 12 kegs of Guinness … and a few more brought in as supplies ran low!

Joanne Finnegan and Colin Bunce

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