Paddlers for peace fight headwinds

 

Three men embarked last Saturday on a "paddle for peace" along the two great inter-connected waterways of Ireland - the Erne and the Shannon.

The team has been making 30 to 35 miles a day on the journey, but a strong wind has slowed their progress considerably. They have had to put in many extra hours on the water to keep to their schedule.

This time tomorrow the men, Jim Kennedy and Pat McCarthy from Union Hall, Co Cork, and Noel Maguire from Enniskillen hope to hand over greetings for peace from the civic leaders of Enniskillen to those of Limerick city.

Against the backdrop of the Northern Ireland peace negotiations, the water enthusiasts feel that they are making their own statement for peace.

"At some of the stages we were making only one mile per hour because of the headwinds and we should have been making five or six miles per hour," said Noel. "This meant that we had put in many extra hours in the kayaks.

"However, it has been worth it, especially here in the midlands where the warmth of the welcome has been enormous."

The "peace paddle" was the brainchild of Jim Kennedy, who runs a sea kayaking centre in Union Hall. He was attending a national canoeing conference where he met Noel Maguire.

Noel, who works in Cavan for Care in Community Education, had been talking about the evolving peace process and how they might make a contribution to it.

"I wanted to make a simple gesture by doing something I am good at and I put it to Noel that we should attempt to go down the Erne and Shannon as a symbol of peace," he said.

"I know it is a very simple thing but it was something I always wanted to do, and Noel said he would like to try it too, so that is how it evolved," said Jim.

Noel, who grew up on the banks of Lough Erne, said that it was very important for him because, as far as he is concerned, there are no boundaries on water.

"I also wanted to have a go at going down the two great rivers and that is how it evolved," he said.

Jim said the Ballyconnell canal, linking the two rivers, was a major symbol in itself as it was developed before the peace process and was a major symbol of hope at the time.

Last Saturday, accompanied by Pat, who works in the Atlantic Sea Kayaking centre with Jim, they set off to complete the 204-mile voyage.

That was not before a plaque and formal greetings had been presented to them by the chairman of Fermanagh County Council, Mr Paddy McCaffery.

"The local people and the councils in Fermanagh were fully behind us and they backed us all the way. They were most supportive and I was proud of that as a Fermanagh man," said Noel.

However, they were not prepared for two things: the warmth of the welcome they received en route and a stiff breeze which slowed them down considerably.

"The Civil Defence organisation all along the route have been exceptionally kind to us. They opened all the gates on the canal which saved us a great deal of time. They were fantastic," said Pat.

And then there were the people who provided food and lodgings for them along the route, including Dr Noreen Dunleavy and Sean's Bar in Athlone, where they spent their fourth night.

There to meet them was Mr Brendan McFadden, chairman of Athlone Urban District Council, who gave them formal greetings from the people of Limerick.

Today they will be beating their way across or around Lough Derg, depending on the weather. They will spend the night in Killaloe and complete the final stage to Limerick tomorrow, Good Friday.

Hopefully it will coincide with a political breakthrough in the territory they left behind last Saturday.