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Unearthed Secrets of Aillwee Cave: Pooka Ireland's Mystical Lore and Last Bear Den!

Pooka Ireland Landscape

Stepping into the heart of the Burren in County Clare, you're greeted by a sight that feels both eerie and otherworldly - the Aillwee Cave, or as the locals call it, Aill Bhuí. Translating to "yellow cliff" from Irish, this privately owned karst landscape gem forms part of the 'Aillwee Cave and Birds of Prey Centre' attraction.

The cave is a journey over a kilometre deep into the very soul of the mountain, revealing features like an underground river, cascading waterfalls, and spectacular stalactites and stalagmites. But the sight that sends shivers down the spine of many a visitor is the skeletal remains of bears, hinting at the Aillwee Cave's legend as the last known bear den in Ireland.

The Enthralling Tale of Discovery

Unlike many of Clare's caves, Aillwee stands out not just for its stream passages but its ancient age. While the formations you'll witness during a tour may date back just 8,000 years, deeper recesses of the cave reveal calcite samples aged at a staggering 350,000 years.

Our tale rewinds to 1944 when a farmer named Jack McGann stumbled upon this mysterious cavern, all thanks to his dog chasing a rabbit. Jack, however, kept this discovery a secret for nearly three decades. It was only in 1973 that cavers got wind of this story, and soon, explorations unveiled the cave's hidden chambers and passages. To our astonishment, 1976 brought a revelation — bones of brown bears dating back over 10,000 years were discovered. This epoch was a time when Ireland had a meagre population of only about 1,000 individuals.

The Pooka (púca): Ireland's Shape-Shifting Spirit

Pooka Ireland

The púca, derived from the Irish term for spirit or ghost, is a renowned creature in Celtic folklore, especially prominent in Irish traditions. These creatures are believed to possess the ability to bring both good and bad fortune, playing significant roles in the lives of rural and marine communities. Known for their shape-shifting abilities, púcaí can manifest as various animals such as horses, goats, cats, and dogs, or even as humans with animalistic features.

The nature of the púca varies, with some tales highlighting their mischievous tendencies. For instance, they might offer a ride to humans, leading them on a wild, terrifying journey only to return them to their original location. Such encounters, commonly noted in Irish tales, often occur in isolated, rural settings. One intriguing Irish narrative describes how a young boy, having previously been a target of the púca, was advised to wear sharp spurs to control the creature. When the púca approached, wary of the boy's "sharp things", it hesitated, illustrating the common Irish belief in the protective power of "cold iron" against supernatural beings.

However, not all tales depict the púca as menacing. Some stories narrate the creature's benevolence, such as aiding farmers in their tasks. One account tells of a farmer's son, Padraig, who encountered a helpful púca that diligently milled sacks of corn into flour at night. On another occasion, the púca is portrayed as a guardian, intervening before a potential mishap or leading one away from a malevolent spirit. Yet, it's worth noting that darker versions exist where púcaí are described as blood-thirsty, even man-eating entities.

Echoes of the Past: The Cave's Historical Essence

In summary, the púca embodies the richness of Irish folklore, representing both the benevolent and malevolent aspects of the supernatural, deeply rooted in the cultural psyche of the Emerald Isle.

The cave system, steeped in history and tales of yore, has for centuries been a focal point of these legends. Historians and locals believe that these caverns might have served as a shelter to early humans, a hideout during tumultuous times, and even as sacred grounds for ancient rituals. The walls whisper tales of yesteryears, echoing the footsteps of both the living and the spectral.

Join the team this Friday as we investigate the highly historical cave system with rumours of púcas, ghostly figures, and even where bears once roamed. Friday at 9 pm on the Really channel, then streaming on Discovery+. What will we find in the big dark cave?

SPooked Irleand Pooka

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