Two Candians and a Tempest run the River Suir

This year I got the opportunity to paddle the River Suir from Golden in Co.Tipperary to Waterford city with 4 friends. The plan was to make the 120km trip in 3 days, camping by the river at night. I was in a Tempest Sea Kayak, and the lads were in 2 Canadian Canoes.

We started early on a Tuesday morning in late September at Golden. There is a car-park behind the local pub with access to the river. The general plan was to try to make it to Waterford by Friday morning all going well.

The river is probably only 15m wide at this point and full of bends and twists. There is plenty of wildlife to see along the stretch of river from Golden to Cahir, including otters and kingfishers.

First stop was Athassel Abbey a few miles from Golden. It dates from the 12th Century and covers a huge site. Amazingly there is no signage or info about it at the site, so might be worth reading up on before you set off. The man who founded it, William de Burgh, was buried there 800 years ago. (There are quite a few bulls on the farmland surrounding it so keep an eye out!)

Next we were off to Cahir. On the run into Cahir there is a weir possibly 8ft high, while it does slope, there is a concrete shelve below the water line. I found this out to my detriment when the tail of the sea kayak and the nose got suspended between the top of the weir and the shelf causing me to capsize. The water is deep here and there is no easy get off here to empty the boat. The only way is back onto that step below the weir and empty the boat up there (I would like to thank Derek from Bansha for helping me do this!). We paddled on to Cahir and pulled up for some light refreshment before the next weir at the town.

It was decided to lift the boats over the town weir on the port side and make for Ardfinnan and make camp there. There were a few small weirs and rapids along the way, all easily negotiable. We were lucky that there was a good flow on the river and did not encounter any dry spots on day one.

When we got to Ardfinnan it was about 6.30pm. Ardfinnan is a fine spot to stay. We pulled up just before the first weir at the town and camped beside the village green. I was using a three man tent but the lads prefer to use a shelter and tarp. It works well and cuts down on weight in the canoes. You would get 4 to 5 people under it. We set up the Kelly Kettle and a small fire to heat a big pot of pasta.

We hit the Green View pub that night where our presence had not gone unnoticed! Nora, the land-lady, was 5th generation at this establishment. She was a wealth of knowledge on the area and its stories, the stout was not bad either. We slept well that night and proceeded to rise early on Wednesday morning. I cooked up some sausages and eggs on the stove and prepared to run the two weirs above and below Ardfinnan.

The first one is gentle enough but important to stay upright as again no immediate get out spot here. The 2nd drop is perhaps 2ft just below the bridge. Canadian no.1 managed it grand with a bit of bracing. I went next and proceeded to capsize again in shallow water as the back end of the kayak caught on the ledge. Luckily there was a dry spot in the middle of the river to haul up and empty out. Canadian no.2 is built from marine plywood and epoxy. She made the run but scraped her backside off the ledge. She was leaking now and it was decided to pull her in and do a repair job. The lads managed to find a local who drove them to 3 garages in order to find some epoxy putty (body filler). The group split and we agreed to meet at Knocklofty Bridge later that day.

The wind had picked up now and a bit of rain started to fall. We made good progress and stopped at a small village called Newcastle. We called into a local shop where they were thrilled to meet us and allowed us to use the facilities. We also got some sandwiches made for 3 euro a pop, not bad going!

After the bridge here the river is noticeably downhill. It does however widen substantially and with wind from the south we were eager to turn east toward Knocklofty. You pass under an old steel bridge which serves an old mansion on the south bank. The stone bridge at Knocklofty is about a mile further downriver. We broke for a rest here and met the lads with the repaired canoe.

On to Clonmel next. We knew the weir at Clonmel was not runnable. It’s at least a 9ft 90 degree drop with a bridge to negotiate after that. There is also a right turn which brings you through the soon to be finished slalom course in the town. We chose to lower the boats down to a ledge just to the right of the main weir and then negotiate some small rapids below the bridge.

Grand so far. We passed through the town and tied up about a kilometre downstream. Time for tea. The rain started to pour down torrentially and a decision was made to go hell for leather to a village called Kilsheelan about 10km away.

This stretch of river just has one spot, below a stone bridge, about halfway down where there are some rapids. These did not present any problems. We got to Kilsheelan at about 7pm. We went into Pat O Sullivan’s pub for a bit of light refreshment. Pat was kind enough to let us dry out our gear in the back lounge and so we decided to come back here after we made camp down by the river. Pat told us about the artist living in the big castle over the river.

Gottfried Helnwein has been living at Castle Gurteen for the past 20 years. Many famous people have stayed at the castle. Gottfried was away the night we passed for Pat assured us he would have been in for a pint was he home. We headed back to camp at about 12 and slept well until 7am.

So our next mission was to get to Carrick-on-Suir by 10am as the river becomes tidal here and we reasoned being there at high tide would be a good start in getting to Waterford City that day. The stretch of water from Kilsheelan to Carrick was excellent on a cracker of a morning. We took our time and stopped for brunch at the marina there.

Onwards to Waterford with the tide. We left Carrick at about 11.30. It all looked so easy, or so we thought, with the tide running out. The river basically becomes a lot of long estuaries with wind head on. My Tempest sea kayak was now coming into its own and enjoying the waves created by wind over tide.

The rest of the group in the Canadian canoes were finding it a bit more challenging. We broke for lunch and realised we had only covered 10km after 2hours! It was a strong southerly wind and when we finally caught sight of Waterford’s new tall white bridge we were convinced we were home and dry. That last estuary must be 5 miles long. This section was tough going even though the wind was now at our backs. We passed under the big bridge about two hours later! About 2 more to go now.

We pulled up at Waterford city marina at tea time. We had underestimated the distance and conditions and were fairly shattered! Luckily we were allowed to keep our boats on the marina that night and retired to the Keg bar for a few well deserved pints having completed our trip in 3 days.

The whole trip was approximately 120km in length. The final day was a bit of a stretch but with a good flow 3 days should be sufficient. The advantage of paddling in late September was that we had plenty of water on the river. However temperatures were quite low at night, so a warm sleeping bag is essential. Lower temperatures also ensured we didn’t encounter any midges.

One more thing about boats: The Tempest sea kayak was a little bit long coming into some of the turns on the river. It does however have plenty of speed and also plenty of gear storage space. Perhaps a 15 ft kayak might be a better option as it might cruise at the same speed as the canoes. Alternatively just use Canadian canoes and have a relaxing trip.

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