A SPRINGER spaniel named Sam was reunited with his overjoyed owners yesterday after being stranded on a cliff edge for five days.
In a dramatic rescue lasting almost four hours, a member of the Sligo Leitrim Mountain Rescue team abseiled eight metres down a rock face to where the dog was lodged in shrubbery on a narrow ledge.
He scooped the starving animal into his arms and carried him down almost 19 metres of dangerous cliff face to ground level.
The thirteen-and-a-half year old pet disappeared from Annie Gilmartin's home in Ballintrillick, in the foothills of Sligo's Ben Bulben mountain, last Wednesday.
Despite an extensive search over the following days there was no trace of the animal.
But 24km away, on the other side of the mountain, locals around Glencar lake were hearing the relentless sound of a barking dog from high up in the Tormore cliffs.
By Sunday, a hiker had spotted the desperate dog on a narrow ledge and reported it to gardai, who contacted the Sligo Leitrim Mountain Rescue team.
Spokesperson Alan Sayers said the operation was carried out in difficult conditions.
"We were on an exercise in the area so were kitted out and at the scene within 10 minutes when we got the call, but it was pitch dark by that time and we had to abandon the mission until the next morning."
He said they were baffled as to how the dog ended up precariously balanced on a tiny ledge with very little room to move.
"If he had fallen from the top he would have fallen the whole way but access to where he was is very limited. There are just a few extremely narrow sheep trails," he said.
A team of four people returned on Monday and began what became a four-hour operation.
Ropes were anchored to the top and a team member abseiled down to where the animal was positioned.
The dog was in a very weak condition and was a dead weight, making it impossible to carry him up the slope.
Instead, the rescuer abseiled down the cliff to ground level with the dog in his arms. "It was very precarious because there was so much loose rock so it had to be done very slowly.
"It was a tricky operation," said Mr Sayers, who remained on top of the cliff holding the ropes.
He said the dog was delighted to be back on solid ground.
"We gave him a small amount of food and water and he was wagging his tail and very happy," he said.
The Gilmartin family were reunited with their pet yesterday morning following an appeal on Ocean FM radio.
Andy Gilmartin, whose mother Annie owns the dog, said she was speechless with joy.
"We are over the moon. We thought we would never see him again. He never wanders further than a few hundred metres from my mother's house so it is a complete mystery why he would start doing marathons at this stage in his life," he said.
One possibility is that he had been taken away in a car but let out at the foot of Tormore.
Sam was checked out by a vet and given a clean bill of health before returning home after an adventure he will not be in a hurry to repeat.