GALLERY

PICTURES: Laois paddlers hold Erkina River festival to celebrate 20 years

Celebrations to mark the club's 20 year anniversary

Michelle Hogan

Reporter:

Michelle Hogan

The Woodenbridge Paddlers are celebrating 20 years as a club and looking back on some fantastic memories over the years. 

Michael G Phelan is one of the original founding members of the club. He said it is brilliant to look back on so many years of fundraising, local support and fun on the River Erkina. 

With around 50 consistant local members and a strong interest in the juvenile age groups, the club looks to have a bright future.

"Back in 1998 we were paddling on our own with boards and rafts. We had different events over the years we have had great fun on the river.

"Last year we had the 24 hour canoe polo and on the same evening someone asked what we were going to do next year, the seed was planted for the 20th anniversary celebrations," he said. 

Michael credits the help of a local teacher for giving the group a push in the early days. 

"Sean Conroy was a teacher from Durrow working in a college in Dundrum at the time and the principle there Pat Neeson who was in the Irish Canoe Union both allowed the TY students to come on trips here and bring boats at the weekend, that support from the outside encouraged us to get going," he said.

The local support is now the backbone of the club. 

"A real highlight is the local support for it. Anyone with an acre of land from the bridge to Durrow has been involved with the club, that’s why it worked over the years because of locals and local support," he added. 

Looking back on some of the highlights over the last 20 years, Michael said they include a lot of 'firsts'.

"In the early days the first trip we ever done was in October of 1999 from the bridge to Kilkenny City, it was a long trip.

"Getting involved with the Cuisle Centre for the first time, supporting people with cancer,we decided to do a fundraiser for them in the early days and we did one last year for them.

"We aimed to collect €1,000 but when we counted it we had raised €7,000 which was huge. There was a great crowd, that stands out and we had similar events over the years for different organisations," he said. 

Most recently, in 2017 the Woodenbridge Paddlers held a 24 hour canoe polo in a world record attempt. It was a huge success with 221 people registered to take part. 

A day of celebrations will be held on Saturday, June 30 to celebrate the Erkina River Festival and mark 20 years as a club.

There will be sideshow events on the day and everyone is invited to attend. There will be a BBQ, music, fun for all the family and on the river including a new water slide from the old Ballinakill swimming pool which the group has received from Laois County Council.

Starting at 2pm at The Woodenbridge the celebrations will feature a 20 year photograph exhibition, kayaking, canoe polo, rafting, equestring/Pony Rides, sheep dog trials, sheep shearing, fishing and game demo.

In a unique addition, Inland Fisheries Ireland will carry out a demo on the day showing how they do a fish count by electrifying the water.

"We are delighted to have that because it's not every day you get that and there is an interest in it," Michael said. 

Have a look through the picture gallery above from the Leinster Express archives of Woodenbridge Paddlers events over the years.

A 6k Toll Heritage Walk which will start at 6.00pm from the Woodenbridge will take place as part of the Erkina River Festival on Saturday, June 30.

The walk involves a 6k trail which has huge history such as an Old Toll Bridge over the River Goul.

The road itself is known as the Coach Road and in bygone days road users were charged one farthing at this crossing.

Also on this trail is Geoghegan's shop, Newtown Mill, an Ancient Mass Path, Newtown Weir, Killogue Church and Graveyard and The Nunnery which is reputed to have historical connections to a famous Naval Ship.

On the evening a reenactment pageant like is planned at all sites including the reopening of Geoghegan's Shop and the collection of a Toll at the Bridge where a return ticket and an information leaflet will be available. All are invited to go along and experience what should be a very enjoyable evening.

Music and refreshments will be had afterwards in the Marquee.

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