The CANI Away Trip took place this year between the 23rd and 26th July, starting at the Ballinamore, Ballyconnel Canal and following the Shannon and Boyle river systems before ending in Boyle, Co. Roscommon. This is a beautiful stretch of water which meanders its way through Counties Leitrim and Roscommon and consists of canals, rivers and lakes. The four day paddle with three nights wild camping mustered thirteen stalwarts and began in the town of Ballinamore, Co. Leitrim, at 10.30am on the 23rd. All participants arrived in good time: boats were taken down from the trailer and the roof racks, and arrangements made for ferrying cars to Boyle.
The start was not particularly auspicious: it began to rain and it appeared that the Boyle brigade had lost its way in the rolling hills of Leitrim. But no need to worry: this was simply a test to check the mettle of the voyagers before embarkation! Boats were packed to the gunnels with tightly-packed blue barrels of diverse sizes containing provisions aplenty and all the necessary equipment. Thanks to Rodger for his missives and good offices in ensuring that we all came prepared for the big occasion.
Led by the excellently competent Pete Dew, who displayed sound judgement and enviable leadership qualities throughout the trip, the redoubtable crew put to sea (or canal, if you insist!) in the early afternoon, starting a 12km paddle along the Ballinamore Canal, first through St John’s Lough, then back to the canal past Keshcarrigan and on to Lough Scur for the night’s camping. Time was pressing and it was necessary to get a move on, so Pete and John McAtasney took to the singles as we saluted our passing giants – yachts, barges and house-boats – all of whom seemed to be lapping up this magnificent water system.
We arrived at Lough Scur at about 8.00pm and went in search of a suitable camping site. Fortunately, some of the group had been here before and could direct us to a secluded wooded area, where we proceeded to pitch our tents. Food and drink were quickly made and readily consumed before heading for a well-deserved sleep in the wilds.
Next morning before the rest of us awoke, Hannah Birt took to her boat and captured with her camera some wonderful photos of the early morning mystical light and mist, the sky cloud-formations reflecting themselves in the water as in a magic mirror.
The second day’s paddle took us along the canal to Kilclare, through Leitrim town and on to Lough Eidin. The weather was fine for the most part and the paddlers all did well, with special commendation going to the Adair family – Liz, Alan, Andrew and Matthew – and to Jill in her single kayak. There were many locks along this stretch which afforded frequent short breaks and gave Matthew the opportunity to act as Lock Master. We stopped at Leitrim town and visited an old inn with many pictures on the walls depicting aspects of Irish history and boasting photos of many famous sportsmen and politicians who had visited the area and the pub over the years. The owner, a proud Kerryman, was a fine gentleman who believed that the Kingdom would again bring back Sam from Croke Park. That remains to be seen!
We arrived at Lough Eidin in good time in the late afternoon and pulled our boats to shore at Tumna on a bend of the Shannon in Co. Roscommon. Tumna has the ruins of an early Christian church and graveyard founded by St Etaín who gave her name to the lough. Situated on a height overlooking the lough, the church is a notable site. The Tumna necklace, consisting of gold beads and chain, is a unique Late Bronze Age artefact which was discovered in this area and is worth checking out in the museum.
The experienced Pete, Mark and John, together with the formidable Maureen Killen and incomparable Rita Matthews, found a large broad slabstone at the back of which they secured an upturned canoe to house their utensils. They added a lean-to canopy for protection against the elements and began to do some serious cooking. The rest of the crew went about their own business but were soon drawn to the exotic aromas emanating from the newly-erected 5* food kitchen. Following the food and a drink or three, all went to bed in good humour and with full stomachs.
In the morning, the 5* kitchen provided a breakfast with porridge sprinkled with local and more exotic fruits before we embarked on our paddle across the lough through Culmore to Oakport Lough, on to the River Boyle and into Lough Key. This was a 13km stretch, with many locks again, and a little more demanding paddle than previous day. Lough Key was a truly impressive body of water and we were fortunate to have excelent guides to keep us on the right track. Motor boats travelling at speed threatened to overturn our equilibrium in the misty conditions but Pete exercised vigilance throughout and ensured that we all moored safely at Trinity Island.
Trinity Island is a very special place: the Cistercian Abbey, whose ruins dominate the small island, was built there in 1228 to supplement the Mother House in Boyle and was the place where the Annals of Loch Cé were written in the sixteenth century. According to tradition, it is also the burial place of Úna Bhán McDermott, the beautiful daughter of the McDermott chieftain of Loch Lurg, and Tomás Láidir Costello. The maiden died of a broken heart when her father forbade her marriage to Tomás; he died shortly afterwards of pneumonia after he attempted to swim over to her grave. The chieftain then relented and permitted them to be buried together. Hannah and Jill took to their boats and visited the McDermott stronghold of Castle Island nearby.
We pitched tents at different spots around the ruins of the church and prepared our evening meal. The ruins provided good facilities in which to eat our food and engage in some lively conversation about a range of matters, including the importance of recreational paddles. The craic was mighty and continued, when Matthew, ably assisted by other members of the Adair clan, Hannah and Maureen, lit a small bonfire, around which we all huddled until the wee small hours of the morning.
After a hearty breakfast in the ruins of the Abbey consisting yet again of a 5* meal prepared by the skilful and always helpful Mark Clague, Maureen and Rita, we began the last short leg of our journey to Boyle. Despite the fact that the weather was inclement, with rain and poor visibility, Pete and our other experienced guides ensured we crossed the lough safely and arrived in tacto at Boyle. We disembarked, hoisted our boats on to their racks, and headed for Ballinamore, where a small group had a most enjoyable and tasty meal.
Thank you to all who made this trip possible: it was an adventure and experience which will remain with us for years to come. Already looking forward to the next time!