24 July 2022


Co. Roscommon

The Shannon Cave is a snaking underground passageway currently recorded at 5.4 kilometers in length. The entrance is in County Fermanagh, but it crosses the border underground and is mostly located in Co Cavan. The cave was initially discovered in 1980 by members of the Fermanagh-based cavers, the Reyfad Group. Exploring new caves is a dangerous enterprise and one of the group, Rev. George Pitt became trapped after a collapse in one of the tight passages, a major rescue attempt ensued and he was released after ten hours, undaunted he continued further explored the system. This section of the cave became completely blocked later in 1995 after another collapse and was deemed too dangerous to carry on. The exploration stopped for some time until another bunch of cavers, the Shannon Group explored a different entrance and after an extensive effort from the various cavers, reopened the passage that now connects the five kilometers of the single system. The caves exploration is a collaboration in charting the underground, one group from the north of Ireland, another from the south driven by a curiosity to discover what is underneath our feet, close by but out of view... a rich metaphorical narrative.

The caves subterranean world delves beneath cartographic structures, a landscape of another sort, another time where geological forces stretch too unthinkable duration. As political ideologies map the landscape, drawing lines, creating containers to encompass the land and its people, these systems need to be reevaluated when thinking about longer timescales; when looking underneath the man-made structures one intuits a deeper time, an imaginative plunge needs to be taken, one that can sustain a vision of this underworld; how it will be shaped and shape us. We need to think in the Deleuzian mode; how we are embedded in and of duration. Not now only man-made but land-made. How can art sit within this renewed timescale? How to deal with time and duration in framing the political? It is a slowing down, a compression of forces where art is a moment, a guide. An embodiment of thought in-time or sub-time where art as a quasi object; a portal, unfixed and in transit. Something to be apprehended rather than held counter too.

The Speleological Union of Ireland, the official organisation looking after all matters on caving and potholing in Ireland. Through SUI I made contact with Peter J Francis Dunlea de Barra, who has supplied me with historical information about the early exploration of the Shannon Cave. Along with many others, he has extensively mapped the cave. The effort and time by these cavers over years demonstrate the deep desire to explore the underworld where the possibility of finding a new passageway, and one could be the first to ever enter this virgin territory, is a real and powerful draw. The map can be access through software and explored virtually, one section is called the Mayfly and consists of 55 ‘stations’ that draw the map. The mayfly is an interesting choice to call this section of cave, a place formed so slowly over time and  referencing the creature that has such a short life cycle. These conflicting notions of time, the present, waiting, dormancy and the subterranean are what I will export of the Eco Showboat project. I hope to make a physical recreation of the caves digital map along with filming  in the cave if possible. I am  collaborating with artist Anna Macleod continuing research on Lough Key and the importance of the mayfly as an indicator species to the health of the lake along with the cultural significance of the species. The project is connecting two bodies of research, the Shannon cave, and the mayfly, seemingly unrelated but connected physically and imaginatively by the river Shannon.

Padraig Cunningham, 2022

Padraig Cunningham, 2022