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Sunday 10 December 2023 Dublin: 7°C
hidden history

Do you know anything about Ireland's secret War of Independence caves?

An archaeologist in Sligo has identified 35 used to hide people and ammunitions and needs your help to find more.

Landowner Jackie McGowan at Tully Cave, Sligo. Used as an IRA hideout in the 1920s. Photo credit Marion Dowd Marion Dowd Landowner Jackie McGowan at Tully Cave, Sligo which was used as an IRA hideout in the 1920s. Marion Dowd

AN ARCHAEOLOGIST FROM Sligo IT has identified 35 caves across the country that were used as hideouts by rebels during the War of Independence.

Marion Dowd has been working with caves for the last 20 years and was recently asked by a historian in Cork to work on caves that had been linked to the Irish Civil War and War of Independence.

“Usually we find the caves in very isolated locations, hidden places in landscapes – they have to be as they were used as hideouts and that kind of secrecy persisted over the decades. What has happened is that local people or landowners might know it was used for such purposes but there are no written records of it and in another generation, it will have been forgotten about.”

Irish caver Jack Coleman was the first to explore caves in Cork and Clare in the 1930s and found arms linked to the Civil War and War of Independence.

“These caves are very much a hidden aspect of the revolution,” Dowd told “But it’s a very interesting aspect in many ways because it was a strategic part of what happened – hiding men, ammunition and arms – they really played a core role, even if it was a hidden role.”

Clashmealcon Caves Kerry - scence of Civil War tragedy Marion Dowd Clashmealcon Caves Kerry which was the scene of four deaths. Marion Dowd

Dowd put a call out through local media last week for any information about caves that may have been used for these purposes and more than 20 people have been in touch, raising the number of caves in the project from 18 to 35 already.

“What we’re encountering is a great pride in the fact that people kept these places secret and there’s that loyalty there,” she explained. “There are places people have called about, especially in Cork and Kerry, that were not known within caving circles at all – we wouldn’t have been aware of caves in those locations.”

Marion Dowd Dr Marion Dowd in a cave at Glencar, Sligo, that sheltered 34 men over six weeks in 1922. Marion Dowd

Once Dowd has finished identifying sites of caves used by rebels, the hope is to excavate some of them to see if they left anything behind.

I’m sure in some there must have been grafitti but now we would need to do a very close study. The cave at Glencar was used for 20 odd days by a big group of men so they much have been leaving things behind. Someone during the week told me that, in a cave in Cork used as a hideout, someone in the ’80s found newspapers from the ’30s and tins and cans.

The Sligo-based archaeologist is still looking for members of the public to contact her with any information they might have about these secret caves so she can identify and study as many as possible. If you know anything, contact her at

cave at Glencar, Sligo that sheltered 34 men over six weeks in 1922 Marion Dowd Cave in Glencar, Sligo. Marion Dowd

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