The ground was still moist from last nights downpour, and every blade of grass was tilted under a heavy blanket of dew. Jet black clouds blocked out the sunbeams, but I could feel this was going to be a good day.
We were embarking on yet another exciting family road trip around Sligo, this time to the Caves of Keash.
While I would purposely avoid the claustrophobia-inducing world of caving that offers an opportunity to descend deep within the surface of the earth, even if it would mean getting a healthy dose of adrenaline and discovering rare, delicate ecosystems that have developed for tens of thousands of years, I can treasure the thrill of visiting caves that have formed high up on a mountainside.
If you have ever visited a cave then you are well aware of how exciting it is to enter a naturally formed hollow area that extends inside the earth beyond the reach of light.
The caves are full of potential wonders and possible mysteries waiting to be solved and visiting one is like stepping foot in an entirely different world where distinct smells linger in the air, where creatures that you rarely see outside thrive and breed, and where everything sounds and looks different.
How to get to the Caves and what to bring along
The Caves of Kesh, also known as the Keash Caves or the Caves of Keshcorran are located in Ballymote, Sligo and you need a car to reach them as there is no public transport.
Getting there: Located just twenty-five minutes south of Sligo town, the caves are easily reachable and make for a great day out. From Sligo Town, head southwest on N4 toward Markievicz Rd/R286/R870. At the roundabout, take the 2nd exit and stay on N4 until you reach the caves.
What to bring:
Torch | the caves can be dark on a dreary day and a torch will help you to find your way. You can also use it to look at any interesting formations or colours on the floor, walls and ceiling of the cave.
Jacket | the caves are always much chillier than the outside temperature make sure you bring an extra layer to keep you warm.
Sturdy shoes | the floor of the caves is uneven and rocky in places so bring appropriate footwear and be very cautious.
Sun protection | bring along sunscreen to protect your skin from sunburn and ultraviolet (UV) radiation and don’t forget sunglasses to shield your eyes.
Water | whether it is cold or hot outside, an adequate water supply should always be a priority.
Reasons to visit the Caves
The Caves of Keash, carved high up on the western shoulder of Keshcorran Mountain, are one of Ireland’s most intriguing ancient sites with far-reaching views. In total there are 16 caves of various shapes and sizes, some of them interconnecting and there are many reasons why you should visit them if you happen to be in Sligo.
Besides the obvious things such as fun, adventure and many photography opportunities here are a few sincere factors to put the caves on your travel wish list:
Ancient Irish myths | Ireland and mythology go hand in hand and if the myths and legends from Irish folklore capture your imagination, then you have to visit the caves.
Legend has it that one of the most celebrated kings in Irish – the High King of Ireland Cormac Mac Airt was born at the foot of Keshcorran and was raised by a she-wolf in one of the caves.
The story goes, that his mother Achta, trying to escape a brooding battle, fled with her chariot before the host of mac Con and sought to go to the Dún with one of the maids. Along the way, they had to stop into the wild woods where she gave birth to a son on a couch made of twigs and leaves. Soo after, exhausted from travelling and childbearing, they fell asleep.
A wolf, meandering through the woods in search of prey for her pups, stumbled upon a sleeping trio and snatched the newborn and bore it off to the stony cave.
Archaeological significance | Archaeological investigations in the early 20th century discovered bones from animals that inhabited Ireland towards the end of the Ice Age. Some of the bones belonged to Arctic lemming, brown bears, red deer and wolves. In addition to animal bones, part of a leg bone of an adult male was also discovered.
The views | Sometimes getting the best perspective of a place requires a little bit of exercise, and the easiest way to appreciate the surrounding landscape studded with sheep is to tackle the climb. The view out of the caves towards little Lough Feenagh, which from this height and angle resembles the outline of Ireland will stay with you permanently.
The trail to the caves
The trail to the caves that begins from the car park beside the RC Church in the village of Keash is short but very steep with loose gravel in parts.
It can take between 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on whether you are going for a leisurely stroll or a sharpish jog and of course on how many times you stop to admire the views, to reach the caves.
Parking | There is a free, newly built car park with plenty of spaces right next to the starting point. If this is full, you can park in the village itself, right across from the Church.
No dogs allowed | As you’ll be crossing open farmland, dogs are not permitted on the off-road sections of the trail.
Visitors Centre | You’ll find a visitor centre next to the Fox’s Den pub in Keash Village
How to make your visit even more memorable
Caves are fun! When you set out to explore the caves, you are exploring a rare environment. Either you are descending deep into the ground or are looking to explore sea caves, make sure you use all your senses to make your visit even more memorable.
Firstly, slowly walk into the cave to allow our eyes to become accustomed to the sudden dark and then start exploring.
What can you see | Look around you. What can you see? Are there any interesting shapes or formations in the rocks? Look up at the ceiling too.
What can you hear | Caves often magnify sound. Try closing your eyes and see how many sounds you can hear. What might be causing them?
What can you feel | Try touching the walls of the cave. What textures can you feel? Are they smooth or rough? Do they feel cold? Is the ground made up of the same rock as the walls?
What can you smell | Take a deep breath in through your nose. What does the cave smell like? How is it different from the world outside? Could you describe it to someone if asked?
Test your knowledge of the caves
To make this post more fun and educational, I decided to include a few questions to test our reader’s knowledge about caves. How many of them can you answer correctly? You can find the answers at the end of the post.
- What are the pointed rock formations that grow slowly upwards from the floors of caves to form pointed pillars?
2. How long does it take for crystals to form in the caves?
3. What is the sport of exploring caves called?
4. Caves are most commonly found in which type of rock?
5. Of which substance are stalagmites and stalactites made?
Things to do near the Caves of Keash
Eagles Flying | Do you ever wish to experience what is like to have Eagles and other birds of prey safely swoop only inches above your head or have an owl land on your gloved hand? By visiting Eagles Flying and attending the daily Bird Shows, you can feel the thrill of being in close contact with such magnificent birds as Falcons, Eagles, Owls and Vultures.
Eagles Flying is a scientifically managed, voluntary run sanctuary for wildlife and other animals in need and they are located just 10 km from the Caves of Keash.
Knocknashee | ‘Hill of the Fairies’ is one of Ireland’s seven most sacred hills and is believed to have been a fortified pre-historic town in Bronze Age Connacht – around 1000 BCE. If you wish to circle the plateau, soak up the views and explore megalithic chambers located on its summit, you can take on the Knocknashee Walk
Court Abbey Graveyard and Ruins | Court Abbey, a 15th century Franciscan Friary complete with fine surviving Belfry, once home to a mendicant order of brothers and sisters is within sight of Knocknashee Hill Sligo. The low walls remaining suggest that it was a very long church and the fragmentary remains of medieval wall paintings can be seen on its side Chapel.
A word of precaution
If you have caves near where you live and you want to explore them in Indiana Jones-style adventure to see what lies ahead in the dark, take all the necessary precautions to make sure you’ll come back to tell of your explorations.
If you’re exploring a sea cave, you need to take great care. Find out when low tide is and make sure you’re out of the cave well before the tide starts to turn.
To make sure you exit happy and healthy:
- Do not go into a cave alone
- Read up on the cave before you go
- Let family and friends know when you’re leaving and when you expect to return.
- Children should never be in a cave without an adult
Answers to the question about the caves :
- Stalagmites are solid dripstones that grow upwards from the cave floor, from each drop of water from the roof or from stalactites overhead
- Crystals take thousands and even million years to form
- Caving, technically known as speleology, is the sport of exploring caves, potholes, abandoned mines and other underground features.
- Most caves form in karst, a type of landscape made of limestone, dolomite, and gypsum rocks that slowly dissolve in the presence of water with a slightly acidic tinge.
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Now, over to you!
Have you ever been to the Caves of Keash? Let us know in the comments!
Let us know if you are plotting a visit to Sligo and have travel-related questions!