Conor Nealon

Word has it that Kilfenora, Co.Clare is still recovering following the DIT hosted Irish Student Caving Forum 2015. A whirlwind schedule spread over the long weekend saw the meeting of Ireland’s caving clubs, as well as some additions from England.  UCD was represented superbly by our very own subterranean superstars the UCD Caving and Potholing Club. The club is one steeped in prestige, tradition and the finest Buckfast wine. The events of the weekend provide the ideal opportunity to learn more about the mysterious cave dwellers.

It is fair to say that by some stroke of injustice the Caving and Potholing club is one of the lesser known clubs occupying the sports centre, yet the fact is that it offers a unique blend of physical training, exploration and a thriving social scene with a sprinkling of all important theoretical knowledge.

Having seen members take on the Picos de Europe in Spain in an expedition as part of the Arios Caves Project, it is clear that the UCD club facilitates serious cavers as well as those who are new to the sport and eager to learn the ropes. In combining various levels of skill and experience, the club  defines itself as ‘a group of friends who want to muck about as much as possible,’  according to the website,  and muck about they do.

Weekend trips to both Clare and Fermanagh ‘were an abundance of caves await,’ according to the clubs Jr. Treasurer Conor Martin, provide members ample opportunity to get out and explore the natural beauty which Ireland has to offer whilst also putting their skills and nerve to the test.  Conor explains that ‘we will start our newer members off on the easier caves and then work our way towards harder ones.’ The challenge of reaching more difficult caves is sure to keep the cavers coming back for more.

Geomorphic landforms aside, the trips away provide the perfect excuse to be merry, a side to the club which is held in high regard, so much so that each weekly training session is followed by a social event and every two weeks or so a meet up of Dublin cavers takes place in town. The close knit club boasts an enviable sense of community and comradery which you would struggle to find in the bigger clubs on campus.

Regaling us with tales of parties and potholes on her blog, American veterinary student, and prominent caver, Emily Punzalan has testified to the fun and games on offer most of which involve the aforementioned ‘curious nectar known as Buckfast,’ and an assortment of kitchen furniture. The ingenuity and nimbleness shown in scaling cave walls, and traversing narrow tunnels makes the cavers and potholers the ultimate contestants in the somewhat disappointingly named ‘box’ and ‘chair’ games.  The stunning sights found in the caves of Ireland provide the main focus of the trips away yet the incentives definitely don’t end there.

As with any club, training is essential and the weekly Wednesday evening sessions aren’t limited to the climbing wall. Key skills such as ‘basic first aid, cave conservation, cave facts and knot tying’ are taught to the members explains Conor Martin, promoting a holistic approach to caving which serves to ensure the maintenance of the natural landscape without which the club would not exist.