Gort River

Useful Information

Location: Around Gort.
(53.0499792, -8.8130821)
Open: no restrictions.
Fee: free.
Classification: KarstLosing Stream KarstPonor KarstKarst Spring KarstKarst Lake KarstEstavelle
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Owen Naughton, Ted McCormack, David Drew, Laurence Gill, Paul Johnston, Patrick Morrissey and Shane Regan (2018): The hydrogeology of the Gort Lowlands, Irish Journal of Earth Sciences, Vol. 36 (2018), pp. 25-44 (20 pages). Published By: Royal Irish Academy.
David Drew (2008): Hydrogeology of lowland karst in Ireland, Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology 41(1):61-72 DOI:10.1144/1470-9236/07-027. researchgate
Patrick Morrissey, Laurence Gill, Owen Naughton, Ted McCromack, Paul Johnston (2018): Groundwater flood modelling in the karst lowlands of south Galway, In: Irish National Hydrology Conference 2018. pdf
Address: Gort Tourist Office, The Weigh House, The Square An Gort, Ireland H91
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


2011 cave diver Artur Kozłowski dies in Pollonora Cave.


The area of River Gort is a so-called Lowland Karst. The underlying Carboniferous limestone is heavily karstified and the primary aquifer rock in Ireland. But in Galway the limestone underlies mostly lowland, which is flat and drains both on the surface and underground through the karst. The surface drainage is not a result of insufficient caves underground, its more a problem of energy, as the caves are quite low and the hydraulic gradient is pretty small. As a result the water flows slowly through the caves and thus after heavy rains they are not sufficient and turloughs form in depressions. But even in dry seasons the drainage is always a combination of surface and underground drainage.

The river Gort is the result of such a situation in the Maigh Aidhne (plain of Aidhne) where both kinds of drainage are present. It actually vanishes numerous times underground and reappears a few kilometers further in a resurgence. The underground flow is fully waterfilled and not explored by speleologists, but the hydrological connection is very well researched. The Beagh River begins at Lough Cutra, because the lough has no inflow of this name. Beagh River flows out to the north and then turns west, after 3.5 km it reaches The Punchbowl. It flows underground for 1 km and reappears in the Cannahowna resurgence. Now it flows north through the village Gort (hence the name) and after 4.8 km reaches the next sink (Swallow Hole 2). It reappears 1.2 km northeast near Kiltartan in Polldeelin Spring, flows 600 m northeast on the surface, and vanishes again in Kiltartan Sink. This short section is quite exceptional and worth that you walk the 600 m along the river. There is another point where the river goes underground during low water, but reappears after only 30 m. We called them Swallow Hole 3 and Resurgence 3, because they actually have no name. The last underground section of the river west and crosses under the motorway M18 and reappears after 400 m as Coole River. After a few hundred meters it flows into Coole Lough, which is a turlough and again drains underground.

The most spectacular spot in the area is obviously the area of the Punchbowl. The Beagh River Swallow Hole is quite spectacular, and the river reappears for good 1 km west. But there are numerous places where you can get glimpses of the underground stream The first is the Punchbowl, 100 m west of the sink the river flows at the bottom of a massive circular collapse doline. On the other side of the road is a 200 m long intermittent river called Blackwater river. It springs at the south end and flows almost north, then disappears right at the R458. On the other side of the R458 after 100 m is another doline, called the Ladle. It reappears onece more in a doline and finally springs from the river cave Pollduagh aka Cannahowna spring to form Cannahowna river aka Gort river.

Only a few hundred meters north of the Kiltartan Sink on the farm of John Nolan is a small cave named Pollonora Cave. There are a few worn out steps leading down to the water, for this was a community well where pitchers and buckets were once filled. There is always water, even when other wells were dry. And this well offers access to the underwater cave system, so it was explored by cave divers for decades. It was explored by Martyn Farr from Wales 245 m long and 34 m deep, both records for cave diving in Ireland at that time. It became quite infamous, because the Polish cave diver Artur Kozłowski died in this cave in 2011.

There are two tributaries, which also meet the same underground drainage system. Ballylee River and Lisheeneynaun River end at sinkholes and drain underground and through River Gort. Lisheeneynaun River ends actually in a turlough, the sink is in the middle of the seasonal lake. One kilometer to the southwest is Lough Coy, which is rather famous for its estavelle, where the water reappears in autumn and vanishes in spring. And another 2 km southwest is the Ballylee River Sink, only a few steps from the famous Thoor Ballylee Yeats Tower.

Swallow Hole 1: Punch Bowl 53.0499792, -8.8130821 GoogleEarthGoogle Earth Placemark
Resurgence 1: Cannahowna 53.0506478, -8.8281981 GoogleEarthGoogle Earth Placemark
Swallow Hole 2: 53.0921841, -8.8079368 GoogleEarthGoogle Earth Placemark
Resurgence 2: Polldeelin 53.0991680, -8.8200736 GoogleEarthGoogle Earth Placemark
Swallow Hole 3 53.1008698, -8.8251337 GoogleEarthGoogle Earth Placemark
Resurgence 3 53.1009555, -8.8256496 GoogleEarthGoogle Earth Placemark
Swallow Hole 4: Kiltartan 53.1025658, -8.8258136 GoogleEarthGoogle Earth Placemark
Resurgence 4: Coole River 53.1031785, -8.8315633 GoogleEarthGoogle Earth Placemark
Pollonora Cave 53.106573, -8.821783 GoogleEarthGoogle Earth Placemark
Ballylee River Sink: 53.1036543, -8.7846174 GoogleEarthGoogle Earth Placemark
Lisheeneynaun River Sink: 53.1224233, -8.7485990 GoogleEarthGoogle Earth Placemark
Lough Coy Estavelle: 53.115253, -8.764718 GoogleEarthGoogle Earth Placemark

The whole area is full of exceptional karst features which are off the beaten track. We listed the GPS location, but we recommend using a good Ordnance Survey Map or OpenStreetMap to locate them. This is actually a fine day trip, somewhere between geocaching and geology field trip. All sites are located close to a road and are easily accessible across fields. Probably there are restrictions by the farmer, as they are on private property. The Republic of Ireland has a restricted Right of Way for pedestrians, but we suggest being friendly, probably offer a small gift, and explain why you want to cross the field and how lucky they are to have such an impressive geological sight on their property.