At the very first Dublin Boat Show in 1960, a short canoe race took place on the river Liffey as part of the programme. From this small beginning emerged the annual Liffey Descent canoe marathon which attracts paddlers from all corners of the globe and it now a major event of the international marathon racing calendar.
A feature of the Liffey Descent is the variety of challenges which fully test the skills of the paddlers as they make their way from Straffan in Co Kildare to Islandbridge in Dublin City – a distance of 32+ kilometres.
Soon after the start at the grounds of the K Club Hotel come the first of ten weirs, followed by the dense vegetation of “The Jungle”. At Leixlip reservoir, there’s 5 kilometres of flat-water paddling leading into the mandatory portage around the ESB hydroelectricity dam.
After Leixlip come more weirs, the most notorious of them at Lucan, Wren’s Nest and finally Chapelizod. By then all that’s left is a lung-busting run to the finish at the Garda Boat Club in Islandbridge.
While the paddlers at the front of the race are aiming for victory and fast times, a unique feature of the Liffey Descent are the hundreds of recreational paddlers who take to the water each year in a variety of crafts, from sleek kayaks to play boats and large Canadian open topped canoes.
While it may take some two hours and others double that, when they finally reach Islandbridge, every finisher will have their own story to tell of a race that demands skill, resolve, stamina and courage.