General Guest posts

5 awesome white water rivers to paddle in Ireland!

Following a trilogy of articles I recently wrote about my favourite white water rivers to paddle in England, Wales and Scotland, I was left thinking about what the best rivers to paddle in other countries would be. I recently took an Irish friend (the lovely Alex McClure) paddling for her first ever trip to the river Tees. Whilst paddling we got chatting about rivers in Ireland and I thought it would be lovely to do a following blog article on awesome white water rivers in Ireland.

Alex kindly put me in touch with another friend of hers – Catherine Mahon. Catherine seems to be one of the most enthusiastic paddlers in Ireland and was very happy to share her favourite rivers with me. She kindly agreed to let me then share those with you all through this article.

Introducing you to Catherine!

Hi all! It’s Catherine here to tell you a little bit about myself and about some of my favourite rivers to paddle in Ireland. I started paddling around 4 years ago when my kids started playing canoe polo in Kilkenny Aqua Canoe Club. After my first winter of paddling with the club I was completely hooked!

Catherine on the Etive (Scotland). Photo: Andy McLaughlin

I love being outdoors and all that it brings. Kayaking allows you to visit the most beautiful places and I have always found the sound of water very soothing. Over the last few years I feel that I have been able to challenge myself whilst paddling and have really improved my skillset. I am currently training as a level 3 river kayaking instructor and am also a level 4 skills paddler which has meant lots of time on the water. Whilst Ireland might not be well known as a paddling destination, it has some amazingly beautiful rivers that I wish to share with you now.

1. The Bundorragha River

The Bundorragha river in County Mayo is a short but fun grade 2-3 river. Set in the beautiful Delphi Valley near the village of Leenane, this river has mountains as it’s backdrop. The drive to the river is just as striking and breath taking as the descent of the river itself! There are not many trees along the banks of the Bundorragha which makes it feel very open. It is regarded as great river for people moving onto grade 3 to practice their skills on.

There is a series of drops which provide plenty of opportunities to practice different lines. Being able to easily lap each feature is something that I love about this river. You can spend hours doing this to perfect your boof stroke and landing. A well located pool after each drop can help with equipment collection when it is needed. There are no significant hazards and it has the added bonus of having a road running alongside it making for easy access.

Look at that backdrop! Photo: Catherine

2. The River Nire

The river Nire is a grade 3 river near the village of Ballymacarbery. It is located in the beautiful Nire valley in County Waterford. This river needs heavy recent rain to run with the most fun run at levels of around 1m or slightly above on the gauge. There are some really nice short rapids, small drops and waves that are good for surfing. The river is slightly more of a challenge than the Bundorragha river. The main hazards are trees, especially on the first section of the river. It is incredibly scenic and I have even seen red squirrels whilst paddling there which was fantastic. It is worth leaving yourself plenty of time for this river as it can be a longer paddle, especially if you stop to surf. I have been on this rivers for 4 hours before because I have been having just so much fun.

Lots of fun to be had! Photo: Catherine

3. The Colligan River

The Colligan river is a much shorter section of white water at just 500m but it is still a very popular run. Located near Dungarvan town in County Waterford, it runs through the Colligan woods. This is a fast flowing river that needs recent rain as it rises and falls quickly. The section is located in a gorge and consists of a series of small drops closely positioned to each other. This run is simply amazing! It is a real pity that it doesn’t come up more often. The drops are in 4 sections and the last drop is about 6 feet or more. Unfortunately you have to carry your boat back to the start if you want to go for another lap but it’s well worth the effort.

Smiles on the Colligan!

4. The Upper Carragh River

The Upper Carragh is a grade 3 river with some grade 4 sections found in County Kerry. At just over 4km long, it has a gradient of approximately 8 m/km. This is a beautiful clean river and I would consider it to be one of the best grade 3 rivers in Ireland for sure. I’ve only paddled it once at a high medium level but it was so spectacular with some great big volume and long rapids. I cannot wait to paddle it again! There were a few tree hazards, especially at the start of the river, that are worth being mindful of. Kerry has an abundance of great rivers and I would suggest visiting for a weekend (or even a whole week). There is an abundance of quality hiking, site seeing and paddling on offer.

Catherine and her friend Fionnuala enjoying the Carragh

5. The Avonmore River

The Avonmore River has a few different sections from grade 2 and grade 3 (4). My preference is The Rathdrum to the meeting section which is a grade 2 + section of about 7.5 km. It is best run at a good high medium level or higher but a great river to paddle at all levels. There are many great features to challenge yourself on including multiple waves, micro eddies and a number of longer rapids. It’s a brilliant training river to help people progress from grade 2+ to prepare for grade 3.

The river is located near Avoca in beautiful woodland and it is not far from Glendalough. There are no significant hazards and this is another river that we spend hours on surfing, ferrying and catching eddies. This section is a section which very much fits the phrase “hard moves easy rivers” as there is plenty of ways to challenge yourself! It is such a fun river for all abilities and it never gets boring. I often end my paddle with a nice coffee afterwards in The Meetings pub which is a lovely little place. One other thing to mention is that you can often spot red kites soaring overhead whilst paddling which is quite something!

Photo from Susan Doyle

6. The Upper Bandon

I know the article heading says 5 rivers but I couldn’t not include this little section! The Upper Bandon is a grade 3 river found in County Cork. It is only 1km in length but it can be padded as a longer section. Alternatively, it is a great section for running laps of. There are plenty of drops which include a double drop at the end. This section is lovely at every level but I personally think it is excellent at a lower level as it becomes more slalom style padding and so is an excellent training river to practice more technical moves on.

Paddler on the Upper Bandon. Photo: Cliff Jeffers

Thank you Catherine!

Del here again! I just wanted to say a massive thank you to Catherine for sharing her enthusiasm for her home rivers with myself and all of you. I feel inspired by her words and I hope that as readers if you ever get the opportunity to do so, you’ll be able to paddle one of Catherine’s suggested rivers. They do sound awesome!

As an end note, if you are reading this and are interested in sharing some of your favourite rivers from a country I have not written about (England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland), please do get in contact. I am very open to creating more guest articles such as this one to share your favourite rivers with others around the world!

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