A Local’s Guide to Exploring Wonderful Caves of Keash in Sligo, Ireland

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.

If you’ve been wanting to spend some time in the great outdoors, look no further than exploring the Caves of Keash.

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.

The floor of the cave is scattered with large rocks

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 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 new-born 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 stunning views from the caves can only be had after a short yet very steep climb.

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

The Caves can be seen from the trail, giving you a wee glimpse of what to expect

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?

Miles upon miles of green rolling hills as seen from the main cave

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.

  1. 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?

The trail leading up to the Caves of Keash in Sligo

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 having 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 photo from my recent visit to the wonderful Court Abbey Graveyard and Ruins

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 necessarily 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 :

  1. Stalagmites are solid dripstones that grow upwards from the cave floor, from each drop of water from the roof or from stalactites overhead
  2. Crystals take thousands and even million years to form
  3. Caving, technically known as speleology, is the sport of exploring caves, potholes, abandoned mines and other underground features.
  4. 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.
  5. Calcite
Caves of Keash in Sligo, Ireland

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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!

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Our Crossings follows the daily adventures of Latvian expats living in Sligo as they surf and explore the world

61 thoughts on “A Local’s Guide to Exploring Wonderful Caves of Keash in Sligo, Ireland

  1. I do not like particularly to visit caves but you’re right, are very interesting! And the myths around them too 😉 this one is really nice to visit and the surroundings as well!
    Seems my knowledge in caves in very reduced…I was able to answer only 2 questions 🙈🙈

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There are many different reasons that drive some men and women towards speleology: for some, it is the sporting or technical aspect, for others, it is the urge for adventure, but for me, it’s enough just to explore the ones we have right here in Sligo that doesn’t go deep in the ground. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the way you’re writing. Have you thought of publishing a novel?
    Then, visiting the caves seems like an adventure, I hope to travel to Ireland some day.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Much appreciated, what a lovely thing to say! I haven’t thought about writing a novel, I love blogging for personal fulfilment, but who knows, I might consider self-publishing or writing articles in my retirement as they could be flexible retirement side businesses. It doesn’t matter where you live. All you need is an Internet connection. Thanks so much for stopping by. I hope all is well. Aiva 🙂 xx

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  3. I’ve had an opportunity to visit numerous caves but not this one in Sligo. It reminds me of caves beside the beach I explored last year in Cornwall. Your style of writing with the inclusion of a fact sheet and short quiz works well and I’m sure we all learnt something new. Hope you have a good week. Marion

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There are many wonderful underground caves in Ireland, some of them big enough to go for a boat ride, but I never felt a hundred per cent at ease while being so deep below the ground and that’s why the Caves of Keash are perfect for those, like me, who are a little bit uncomfortable in dark, tight places. And thanks so much for the compliment, you made my day, Marion. Also, thanks for reading and have a lovely evening. We are enjoying yet another heatwave! Aiva 🙂 xxx

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Another place to visit next time I’m in Ireland! Such fabulous views. I’ve only visited caves in my home province of Alberta in Canada. One was a deep, dark cave in the side of a mountain, the other a man-made Cold War bunker. But my knowledge of caves is limited. I only scored 2 1/2.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much. While I love visiting and capturing the caves, one of the main reasons why I am drawn to this particular place in Sligo are the views. The surrounding landscape changes drastically with each passing season and it is always exciting to take a break on one of the perfectly placed benches to enjoy the sensational views. Don’t worry, my overall knowledge about the caves, before I started writing the post and conducting the research, was fairly limited, too, so you are not the only one. I hope you get to visit the Caves of Keash one day 🙂 Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Caving is an adventure sport like no other. Whether you’re descending on ropes into vast caverns, swimming in underground rivers, strolling past beautiful calcite formations, or crawling through narrow rifts, there’s no shortage of variety to be had. I wish I was brave enough to descent deep underground, exploring caves sounds like fun, but claustrophobia has a tight grip on me, and I would become very anxious! Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you kindly, Allan! The Caves of Keash are easily accessible and doesn’t extend deep underground which makes it perfect for those who are feeling intense fear or panic in tight spaces. For some people, the desire to explore a cave is almost irresistible, it’s another world of travel underground, but unfortunately not for me. Even watching documentary programs about caves and cavers makes me break out in a sweat! Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day. I hope all is well with you and your family 🙂 Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We have a friend who was a spelunker and he used to go a couple of miles into some deep caves, crawling on his belly, wading through water and squeezing into places he should not have. I am too claustrophobic for that. Although I did crawl through a lava tube in NZ once. 😀

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  5. Aiva those caves, as you have described and photographed, with even the history and legends, are incredible! We’ve many caves here in Valencia and all over Spain, but I am not too much of a cave enthusiast…however, I was trained to explore caves back in my military days, and you are right, one should take extreme precautions because one is not in one’s element, especially underwater caves, which are fascinating. Great photography as we are accustomed to see in all your wonderful posts, and great, valuable information for the traveller. Cheers for this article and all the work you put into your lovely, interesting and informative blog. All the best Aiva!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Fransico! I love your ability to sprinkle compliments and good energy like confetti! I would never think that people in the military would be trained in caving, but then again, when I think about it – it’s a fantastic way to be mentally and physically tested. I have to say that I admire anyone that can head deep underground as getting into difficulties in underground streams or submerging tunnels could make your exploration fatal. I remember there was an awful accident where an Army recruit died after he panicked and drowned as he was led through the deep waters in the Brecon Beacons. Exploring caves is fun, but also dangerous places with hypothermia, falling, flooding, falling rocks and physical exhaustion being the main risks. And we all know that rescuing people from underground is difficult and time-consuming, and requires special skills, training, and equipment. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow, you guys really have it all in Sligo! As interesting as the caves themselves, I’m drawn to the amazing views from the caves and the trails leading up to them—stunning!
    I enjoyed your quiz. A long time ago someone told me how I could remember the difference between stalagmites and stalactites. Stalactites better “hang tight” from that ceiling or you’re a goner.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a fun way to learn the difference between stalagmites and stalactites, I thought I knew, but had to look it up once again while writing a post about the Caves of Keash. But now, thanks to you, I’ll remember for sure. I am glad you love the views, it’s the main reason we usually visit the caves as nothing comes close to seeing the surrounding landscape from higher ground, especially during the summer months when everything seems so lush! Thanks for stopping by and have a lovely day, Caroline 🙂 xx

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  7. I love exploring caves, and when one is coming with a legend, it’s even better😊 There is always fun when we learn something new, about a cave, or its surroundings, isn’t it?
    But the most I enjoyed is the lush green rolling hills you could see from up the hill, I simply love them! Superb vistas Aiva, all those fields are so lucky to get the rain (which we miss a lot here).
    Enjoy the rest of the summer, have a great week ahead😊
    Christie, xx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Christie 🙂 Discovering the Caves of Keash and learning of the mythical tales and local legends associated with this ancient site was a family trip to remember. I’ve been to the Cave of Keash many, many times before throughout the years, but this was the first time I’ve seen the surrounding landscape so lush and so green, I was in awe and didn’t want to leave. Thanks so much for stopping by. My little one started school today and was excited to meet her new teachers. Let’s hope she keeps the enthusiasm levels up for the rest of the school year, even when they start learning to write and read. Have a nice day. I hope all is well with you and your family 🙂 Aiva xxx

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wow, she is a big girl now🙂 Hope all will go well, and she will like it, although the school may be different now, in these different times.. do they need to wear masks in class? You guys start school early over there. Here, there are still about 10 days till the schools open (always after Labour Day, which is first Monday of September). Good luck to your little one, and to her parents too🙂🙂
        Have a beautiful weekend!
        xx

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    1. Thank you kindly, Diana! Exploring caves is an exciting adventure that you can enjoy at any time. There are a good few amazing caves scattered through Ireland, some of them even containing the longest free-hanging stalactite in Europe, but the Caves of Keash are still my favourite ones. I am glad to hear you learned a thing or two about the caves! Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh wow! That’s certainly as aspect to Ireland that doesn’t make mainstream travel lists. I’d never heard of any caves in the country before. Something to add to my list for when I visit Ireland one day!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, being buried in a rockfall underground sounds like a scary experience to remember! Caves of Keash are very small caves that don’t even extend that deep into the ground (you certainly wouldn’t be able to get lost) and therefore are perfect for family adventures. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva

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    1. Thank you kindly! We don’t really have many high mountains in Ireland and thus I would say there are more rolling hills than soaring mountains, yet we can still find plenty of places to take in the views of the surrounding landscape. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I think I could do those caves as they have amazing views but like you I suffer with claustrophobia and some underground caves I just can’t do. But the views and the history. Love that. Your posts always make me put Ireland high on the list of somedays.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Due to my claustrophobia, I wouldn’t even dream about going deep underground to explore the caves. But these ones in Sligo are big and wide enough to make you feel safe and sound. While the climb to the caves might be a bit steep and slippery in moody weather conditions, the views make up for it tenfold. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

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      1. We did a tour at Vimy Ridge, which as a Canadian almost felt like a right of passage to see all the details of this important historical landscape, and the tunnels were literally hundreds of soldiers waited was so dark and I just had to keep thinking “but it’s not like I’m facing a war when I go up”. For them the time under there was quiet and for me it was mind over matter.

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    1. Thank you kindly! It’s amazing to think that many caves were used as shelters by people in previous centuries. Sometimes for living in and sometimes for storing supplies such as food and weapons in. We have many amazing sea caves in Irelan, too, but I haven’t worked up my courage to explore them as you need to know the tides. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m all about exploring the nooks and crannies of an undiscovered path, and caves are perfect for that! The Caves of Keash look wonderful, although I’ll have to be careful as to not venture too deep for the sake of getting lost (no need to pull a Tom Sawyer here!). Thanks for taking us along your adventure here!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Rebecca! I love exploring caves, but ever since the story broke about the miraculous rescue of all 12 boys on a youth soccer team and their coach after two weeks trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand, I am a bit overcautious. But then again, it would be a shame if they put anyone off the idea of exploring caves because caves are rad and there are plenty here in Ireland and Europe that can be enjoyed safely. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xxx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you kindly. I am delighted to have such amazing caves on our doorstep. I always bring my torch as the cave is dark-lit and have the best time exploring them 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day. Aiva xx

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  10. This looks like a great hike and exploration! One would need to be careful where I live because a cave could be a bear’s lair. The myths and legends are always so interesting and makes the history comes alive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. For active outdoors enthusiasts, there’s nothing better than exploring caves. Caves generally bring a sense of awe mixed with apprehension. They are the stuff of legend and home to infamous flying mammals, bats, and they offer a very welcome break from the summer heat. We don’t have bears in Ireland, so we would be safe exploring them. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you kindly 🙂 teaching is a highly respectable job as it is the one that shapes young minds, but I don’t think I have the qualities required to bringing up good citizens with moral responsibility. I have to admit that even after writing the post and conducting the research, I still don’t know the difference between stalagmites or stalactites! Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you kindly. The Caves of Keash are a must-see sight for anyone visiting Sligo as their location is far away from the hustle and bustle of the Sligo town. It’s somewhere you can stretch out your legs and breathe in the fresh air. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Meg, it’s great to hear from you again. Exploring the rural wonders of Sligo that’s speckled with picturesque fields, bountiful farmlands, amazing caves and sweet serenity is a must for any visitor 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you kindly, Glenys. Whether your heart and soul is drawn to the surrounding farmlands or you want your vacation to go beyond the tourist cities, the Caves of Keash offer pure serenity 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day. Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you kindly. I am not a big fan of underground caves, but this one in Sligo is just a few metres deep, perfect for anyone with claustrophobic issues. Thanks for stopping by and have a lovely day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    1. Thank you kindly. Exploring caves is an exciting adventure that we can enjoy at any time, especially if it’s raining and we can’t be by the sea. While I would never go too far into one due to my claustrophobia, I am fascinated by them. And how can you not? Cut through over the aeons by underground rivers and flash floods, there are many caves and caverns that can blow your mind with their gorgeous geological formations, narrow passageways, and underground lakes to explore. Given that most caves are dark, cold, and damp and other cave inhabitants, such as bears and cave bears, cave lions, and cave hyenas, often made caves inhospitable for people, it must have been challenging to live in one. Thanks for stopping by, and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    1. Thank you kindly. We had a great time exploring the caves and were delighted to stop by the abbey ruins. In Ireland, we are lucky to be surrounded by so much wonderful history – and an insight into the most fascinating historical lives can be found in the country’s graveyards. I think Court Abbey Graveyard and Ruins is one of Ireland’s most intriguing burial sites. Thanks for stopping by, and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva

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    1. Thanks so much for all the suggestions. I had to use Google to see what those caves look like, and I am in awe. There’s certainly plenty to discover beneath the surface in the thousands of miles of underground caves across the United States. Thanks for stopping by, and have a lovely day 🙂 Aiva

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    1. Thank you kindly, Elizabeth. I waited a long time for the weather condition to be half-decent to explore the caves and it definitely paid off. It was a day to remember for sure! Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

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