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by Andy McInroy

Great Sea Caves of Antrim
Chapters 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5a - 5b - 6a - 6b - 7

Chapter 5
Into the Depths of the Grand Cave, Runkerry
"Don't be afraid, sir: never has an accident happened in any one of these boats, and the most delicate ladies has rode in them on rougher days than this. Now, boys, pull to the big cave. That, sir, is 660 yards in length, though some says it goes for miles inland, where the people sleeping in their houses hear the waters roaring under them."
The Irish Sketch Book
William Makepeace Thackeray, 1845

Pull up a seat. This is biggest journey on my cave project to date and I have quite a story to tell. A journey into this legendary cavern is not for the faint hearted and my story comes to you after 9 months of planning and a day to remember on the exposed Runkerry headland. Before I begin, I would like to express my gratitude to my climbing guide for the day, Iain Miller. I could not have photographed this cave without Iains unflinching coolness at a time when I was almost going to pieces. Thanks also to Cathal Donnelly for being our eye in the sky and taking some remarkable photographs from the clifftop.

Let us begin....

With four chapters now complete, it was finally time to turn my attention to the biggest sea cave on the Irish coast. The Grand Cave of Dunkerry on the Runkerry headland is accessible only by sea. It is approximately 100 feet high at its entrance and, if the legends hold true, it runs for miles inland. As far as I was aware, the interior had never been photographed. If you know different then I want to hear from you.

A search through the old texts threw up some remarkable material relating to this mythical cavern. Dunkerry appears to have been one of the top tourist attractions on the north coast in the 1800s. However, today all the expert boatmen of Portnaboe and Runkerry are gone and this cavern remains off limits to the casual tripper.

Where yon dark shadowy rocks embower the wave,
Scooped in their mural height Dunkerry's cave,
As Fion's grot sublime, its arms extends,
And o'er the flood its dome high-arching bends:
A crimson zone its emerald walls surrounds,
Far, far within the hollow, surge resounds;
Borne through the cliffs contracting sides we hear
Its echoes roll, where skiff ne'er dared to steer.

The Giant's Causeway: A Poem
Rev. William Hamilton, 1811

As I approached the interior, the cave grew wider: we came to immense arched galleries, where the waves were tossing boisterously to and fro. The base of the rock was of a reddish hue, the sides black as ebony, and the arch partly green, partly white. Before me was a vista of more than seven hundred feet in length; but the passage afterwards took another direction, and its issue is not known. One of my boatmen had a gun, which he discharged beneath the vaulted arch ; the report was terrible, the sub-terraneous echo repeated it seven or eight times, and I quitted the cavern in the highest state of excitement.
The Three Kingdoms: England, Scotland, Ireland
Charles Victor P. Arlincourt Published 1844


The Century Magazine
Published 1890

It was W.H.Bartlett's 1842 etching of the Dunkerry cave interior that provided the major inspiration for my plans. W.H.Bartlett was prone to some artistic exaggeration. Nevertheless, this haunting etching was fascinating to me with its awesome sense of scale, depth and atmosphere. If I could come close with a photograph, I knew it would be worth the effort (and risk) involved.


The Grand Cave of Dunkerry
W.H.Bartlett
The Scenery and Antiquities of Ireland, Published 1842

On the 21st of June, 2008, after many months of planning, I assembled a small team to make an attempt at getting inside the cave of Dunkerry. The trick, however, was not only to get inside but also to haul camera gear and the tripod up onto a ledge within the cave to take the photographs. Here's our story..... Continue to Page 2 - Into the depths