I found “In Irish Waterways” an interesting book both from a paddling perspective and as a commentary on the way that society has changed over the last 50 or so years. This book doesn’t fall into the category of sea kayaking but could be described as kayak touring. The book describes a number of journeys undertaken the author between 1939 and 1949 on the inland waterways of Ireland. The majority lasted about two weeks and they paint a picture of a country that no longer exists.
A double folding kayak was used to explore the classic waterways of the Shannon, Liffey and Corrib Lakes to mention three. The preferred choice of transport to access the rivers were the train, how much more challenging would that be today. What was interesting was the equipment that they carried, how many paddlers today carry a bow and arrow? For some who are easily offended they might be shocked to read the description of the author shooting a Coot and then spending the day roasting the bird on a spit. His opinion was that they were particularly tough! They also hunted badgers using the bow and arrow and decided that they need stronger arrows because of the way that they broke. Activities, which clearly no one today would admit too let alone put into print.
Disregarding hunting activities this is a delightful book which is full of adventures, involving weirs, bulls, bad weather, swans etc. Many of the same problems, which affect paddlers today. It would be a challenge though to paddle into a village in Europe today where there was no bread, meat or tinned but that was the situation, which existed in Drumsna, as they paddled the Shannon.
This is a book about change. Change within society, where it is no longer acceptable to go around eating Coots. But it is also a book about continuity. The fact that so many areas of the waterways remain unchanged, as we paddle our craft we see a physical landscape, which has remained largely the same for hundreds of years. This provides us with a link of generations of earlier paddlers. Paddling these rivers today many of the views and experiences will be the same. What has changed though is the equipment and clothing. There is a fascinating collection of photographs in the book depicting innocence and freedom, which has been lost for many in the modern world.
So forget about being a sea kayaking purist, search out a copy of “In Irish Waterways” and immerse yourself in the Ireland of 60 years ago.
By Edward O’Regan
Published 2005 by Currach Press
Paperback 149 pages