Canoeing and Kayaking

The rivers of Ireland, and the seas around provide excellent possibilities for canoeing. Individual canoeists were around for many years in the country but it was only in the late '50s that Clubs were formed, and soon after, in 1960 a national body for the Republic, the Irish Canoe Union(ICU) (*), was formed. The equivalent body in Northern Ireland is CANI(*).

At this moment it is necessary to point out that the sport includes two very different types of canoe; the Canadian canoe, with an open deck such as everyone remembers from pictures of Red Indians paddling the streams of the Rocky Mountains, and the Kayak, with closed decks, based on the Eskimo kayak, also familiar to most of us. In Ireland it is the kayak that is most popular, although we usually speak of canoeists. There are, of course special types of each canoe, for flat water, wild water, surfing, sea canoeing, etc.

How to get involved

It is quite easy to get into kayaking. The ICU can supply a list of Clubs, most of the Adventure Centres and Outdoor Education Centres run courses, as does the ICU itself. The training brings the beginner through a series of qualifications of personal proficiency, on all of which safety is stressed. Even if a beginner only intends to practise recreational kayaking, it is well worth while getting proper basic training.

It must be stressed that no-one should ever go out in a kayak or canoe solo; water is an alien element for most of us, and it easy to get into some difficulty which is no problem for two kayaks, but might be fatal for one person.

Types of Kayaking

There are several varieties of kayaking. The simplest is touring on canals or easy rivers, but most people will want to add a little excitement by picking rivers with some rough water. While it is generally possible to portage, it is a lot more fun to shoot the weirs or the occasional rapids. The steeper weirs often have a "stopper" wave at the bottom which is quite hard to get out of.

Moving towards greater skill, many kayakers look for the smaller rivers where there are plenty of rapids and small waterfalls, where quick thought and skill are needed to plot a course amongst the rocks. This sport requires a special kayak, shorter and much more manoeuvrable than the longer slimmer kayaks used on rivers or flat water where speed is more important. The best time for this sport is the winter, when heavy rain raises the flow in the rivers to test the skills of the canoeist.

If we turn to the coasts, there are exciting possibilities in canoe surfing. This is basically similar to board surfing, except that the canoeist is running in on the waves manoeuvring with his paddles.

Finally there is sea canoeing(*), a speciality which requires a special kayak designed to lift to the waves, safety equipment to deal with possible problems when the canoeist is miles from the shore - and a lot of skill and confidence. There are clubs and training specially for sea canoeing. The kind of target the experts are aiming for might be canoeing round Ireland, or crossing the Irish Sea, but there is still much to enjoy at sea at a lower risk level.

Where to Kayak

For flat-water touring with the occasional weir, the Barrow is an ideal river . Once a year at the beginning of September, the ESB releases extra water out of Blessington reservoir for a race down the Liffey from Straffan to Chapelizod, raising the difficulty considerably and attracting nearly a thousand competitors, including top canoeists from abroad.

For white-water river paddling, there is plenty of scope in Wicklow, on the Avonmore, Avoca and Aughrim rivers. Other popular rivers round the country (not all easy) are the Inny, the Clare Glens near Limerick and the Flesk in Kerry. A competitive version is very popular, the Slalom race where the difficulties of the fast flowing river are enhanced by forcing the competitor to weave a route through a series of "gates" delineated by pairs of hanging slats slung from wires across the river.

Canoe-surfing, like board surfing, requires big Atlantic waves; some of the best beaches are at Tramore, Lahinch, Easky and Bundoran.

Sea kayaking can take place anywhere off the coast. County Dublin has reasonable paddling and an active club scene; the west coast offers hundreds of deserted islands, big Atlantic swell and superb scenery.


Irish Canoe Union:
Sea Canoeing:
CANI - go to CAAN :

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