A Real Cavern Adventure

Author: DHBoggs /

The Following are excerpts from Stories of Irish Life - Henry Martin 1878

I find the description both evocative and inspirational, particularly when they get lost in the dark, and plan to draw a lot on this the next time it happens to may players -Especially as regards the behavior of any hirelings they might have with them.  

By the way, they were all eventually resucued by a local woman.  Here goes:

Excerpt from the chapter: The Michelstown Caves:

"We hired three guides, changed our outside dress, provided some refreshment to carry with us, and a box of matches and several large candles, as torches were not available, and indeed would not have been suitable for illumination in the confined and low passages, from their smoke.
With our own guides bearing lights before us, and these volunteers with lights behind us, we advanced for a considerable distance, on a very uneven path, farther and farther into the heart of the limestone hill ; the air about us damp and cold, and water, in many places, dropping rather freely upon our heads from the roof of the galleries.....

... We had come a long distance, through darkness, damp, and chill, and over pointed rocks and treacherous floors, to reach this chamber, but it was well worth the inconvenience and toil. Several columns, virgin white, and clear as alabaster, reached from floor to ceiling, and seemed to fancy as though they had been reared by super human hands to sustain the roof. Taking into consideration, however, the true mode of their formation, what long centuries, we thought, must have passed since the wide roof of the chamber had been an unsupported arch, and what ages were required to construct those tall and massive pillars from lime held in solution in water slowly dropping from the overhanging rock, and in such small quantity that the water when poured into a vessel seemed as clear as that from the purest spring... 

...After examining, for some time, various portions of this magnificent chamber, my friend and myself felt desirious of obtaining a correct estimate of its whole extent and height. Addressing our companions, who each bore his lighted candle, I called out, " Friends, place yourselves at regular distances all round the cavern, and hold aloft your lights." It took some time to obey this direction : several rocky projections in the floor had to be clambered over and deep crevices to be crossed. Some of the men had to ascend long and steep shelves of stone, until they reached an elevation that approached the roof. But, when each light was borne to its intended position, the scene was most impressive ; the feeble illumination from distant points, shining like stars, greatly increased the apparent spaciousness and loftiness of the chamber, and the great pillars looked ghostly in the dim and mysterious light. As well as we could judge, the span of the arched roof was about one hundred and twenty, and its height about seventy feet. It was a natural cathedral, which surpassed, in awe-inspiring power, the finest creation of human genius and skill. But now occurred an accident which in a moment turned the whole current of our thoughts and feelings, and changed admiration into dread. Owen O'Brien, one of our guides, who all the morning had exhibited an unpleasant forwardness, shouted out from the top of a shelving rock where he was holding up his light, "Boys"  (male human beings, whatever be their age, in Ireland are called boys), " let us all put out our lights, I'd like to feel the darkness of a place like dis, a thousand feet underground. Wouldn't it be a rale fine thing to tell of to the purty girls and owld wimin at home ? "....

Are yees all ready? " he cried. " Thin do as I do ; " and blowing out his light, before we could interfere every candle all round the cavern in a moment was extinguished, and we were in darkness ; and oh ! how intense was the darkness — the words of Job, descriptive of the grave, at once started to the memory as alone adequate to express it : "A land of darkness, as darkness itself, and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness."....

...there was a call from all parts of the cave upon O'Brien to strike a match and rekindle his "light." This he was proceeding to do, as we could discover from the sound of his movements feebly heard far off in the silent cave, when lo ! the match-box slipped from his fingers, fell to his feet, glanced down the shelving rock on which he was standing and plunged right into a pool at its base. His exclamation " Oh ! " was followed in a moment by the splash of the box into the water, which proclaimed his carelessness and our dreadful predicament. Not a match beside was there in the possession of the whole company ; and there we were, sixteen human beings, closed up in utter darkness, with great ranges of intricate passages between us and the mouth of the caves, and with four hundred yards of hard, cold rock above our heads. It was some time before we could realise our position, and then it seemed too terrible for the mind to dwell upon. We were buried alive, far from help, in dampness, cold, and utter night — and chill horror crept in upon our souls. Looking back afterwards upon the occurrence, the remembrance of its effect upon various characters was an interesting study. Many of the men around us fell upon their knees, and uttered the most piteous cries to the Virgin and the Saints for deliverance. Some of them wept aloud, and two or three screamed and danger to repress his Irish love of fun and sense of the ridiculous. Above the words of terror and entreaty around him, his voice was heard, saying with grim humour, " Frinds, there's wan thing to comfort uz — it'll not cost much anyhow to bury uz ; and what a grand funeral we've had — each one at it carryin' a blessed light. And isn't it odd, too, we've all walked, kind and sweet, into our own ready-made grave, and more nor dat have gone to a deal of bother to do so." As for my friend and myself, an awful dread at first took hold of us. A fearful death stared us in the face, far away from kindred, not one of whom could ever know our fate, for none of them had been made acquainted with our intended visit to the caves. 


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