Using the natural resource of the river Suir which cuts through the heart of the town, the Tipperary Sports Partnership, along with other state and voluntary agencies and clubs, have developed a facility along Suir Island and Denis Burke Park which is the first of its kind outside the capital.
The course is already being used by the likes of Clonmel Canoe Club and Ardfinnan Canoe Club as well as youth and training organisations from local towns and villages and, crucially, the national kayaking squad.
Three-time Olympian and national coach Eoin Rheinisch said at the official opening in Clonmel it is “fantastic” to have such a facility outside of Dublin, “for the high performance people but also for regional and club-based activities”.
The flood protection walls lent themselves to the development of the course and installation of gates while the rock pools built up along the sides of the river help with the eddys and flows needed for a competitive layout.
“It creates features and small waves in the flow but it’s still very natural looking,” Rheinisch said.
Twenty members of the national squad have already had a training weekend in Clonmel and it’s now set to be a fixture on the schedule, with the national championships taking place over the weekend following the official opening.
Incidentally, the squad is now about one-third of the way through the selection process following races in Lucan and then a stint in Slovakia for two international races.
Martin Nolan of Clonmel Canoe Club said kayaking began on the river Suir about four and a half years ago when local “paddlers” grew increasingly weary of having to drive to Carlow or Kilkenny to enjoy their sport.
“There was about a half a dozen of us, middle-aged fellas, who got together in the back of a pub one evening and formed Clonmel Canoe Club with the intention of making the Suir better for paddling. We’ve gone from strength to strength and have now what we see here,” Nolan said.
The Irish Canoe Union, and Benny Cullen who has since gone elsewhere, helped along the way while funding was secured by the Tipperary Sports Partnership, led by Valerie Connolly, from Sport Ireland for the slalom course.
“It’s for everybody, it’s for the paddlers, it’s for the fishermen, it’s for the people who like to wait down at the bridge when we’re paddling below and watch us falling into the water, it’s for the people walking in the park.”
Sport Ireland CEO and 1984 Olympic silver medallist John Treacy said the opening of the Clonmel slalom course was the culmination of much cooperation between various agencies and clubs.
“Ireland is a country of rivers and these are the sports we should be doing. Having this here makes it accessible to everyone in Clonmel and the whole county and surrounding counties.”