First Ladies


Leslie Hyland

“History is bunk” SAID Henry Ford. True? Maybe! If it means slavishly copying what was done before just because it was done before. On the other hand what happened in the past can teach the thinkers of today to learn from the past mistakes rather than to make them all over again. Indeed, new comers to the seen may be pardoned for thinking that canoeing has no history. 

They are wrong! It is understood that an Edward Pophan of Waterford had a canoe built for him by Messers. Penrose in 1886 – that this was the first canoe in Ireland is a very likely correct assumption. The first know authentic record of ladies being interested is a paragraph in the “Freemans Journal” on 25th March 1874. And when you get your breath back from that date you can read a transcript of the item opposite (see below on this page Ed.)  And if you still don’t believe it the original is in the National Library, Kildare Street, so there! The Mermaids never affiliated to the I.C.U. so no one knows whether they had proper club facilities or whether they were just a flash in the pan.  Possibly they pined away for the lack of male company for nowhere is there a reference to mermen. Can you believe any club nowadays letting its lady paddlers completely monopolise the water; and in the latest terrestrial fashions too! Interesting isn’t it that 1886 is but one year and 1874 only nine years after the foundation of the Royal Canoe Club and the exploits of the celebrated John McGregor in his Rob Roy canoe which were the first phase of canoeing in the now accepted form.

After this early start Ireland seems to have been slow and it is not until between the wars that canoes are heard of again. In the 1930’s an Irish Canoe Club was formed, mainly for touring purposes, and this flourished almost up to the second World War: its demise and the journies of Major Raven-Hart must have somewhat overlapped. It would be most interesting to know more about this period. Would any of our readers like to write about it for us? 

The Organisation of Canoeing as we know it began with the formation of the I.C.U. in 1962 but that is excessively modern history.

Taken from Kayak magazine, Issue 16 April 1970.


Freemans Journal


Wednesday, Twentyfifth of March, Eighteen seventy four


The Kingstown Harbour was this afternoon visited by a number of mermaids, Sceptics have, of late years, actually questioned the existence of this interesting class of the community, whose musical entertainments were so largely patronised but the ancients.  It is therefore satisfactory to know that the modern mermaids as seen from the West-Pier today, and they seem rather to court than to shun observations, differed in some immaterial points from the green-haired and fist-tailed individuals that classical writers and imaginative mariners describe, but these trifling discrepancies may fairly be attributed to the fluctuation of fashion among the submarine fair sex.  The Kingstown mermaids are tall and comely maidens.  They seem to have entirely eschewed the curious habit of “doing their hair” in the water, for their locks were neatly arranged over fashionable chignons, and their entire costumes were constructed in accordance with the latest terrestrial fashions.  The “mulier Formosa superne” does not end disgracefully in a fish, but in a very graceful and elegantly constructed Esquimeau canoe. A polished double paddle, which is wielded with equal vigour and dexterity supplies the place of fins; and a prettier sight cannot well be imagined than a bevy of these brightly robed sirens gliding gracefully over the shining waters of the harbour.


Eleventh Liffey

The following article was taken from "Kayak" magazine July 1970:

THE ELEVENTH LIFFEY DESCENT - It's -Longer, It's Tougher

- Ernest Lawrence

Forty K1s in a tight bunch creeping forward, suddenly a flurry of paddles and "they're off"! 1,000 metres later when the original bunch is spread into smaller wash-hanging groups, straight over a very high weir, a few strong paddle strokes and they're through the bottom stopper followed immediatley by some smart manoeuvering to avoid the arches of a large bridge. Now only 17.5 miles to go.

This is what the start of the eleventh Liffey Descent will be like. The date Saturday 5th September; the starting place approximately 1,000m. above Straffan Weir, Straffan, Co. Kildare, and to complete this new look "Descent" - a new finishing point, Trinity College Boat House, Islandbridge with showering and changing facilities.

There are a number of other important changes in the running of the race this year, the most important one for competitors to note is that the briefing and scrutineering will place on the Friday evening, 4th September, between 19.00 hrs. and 22.30 hrs. at the marquee behind the Rye Vale Tavern, Leixlip, Co. Kildare. Only under very special circumstances will competitors be able to have their entry checked and canoe scrutineered on the day of the race.

The Prize Giving will take place at the Supper Dance to be held in the marquee at the rear of the Rye Vale Tavern, Leixlip. A much larger marquee is being used this year to cater for the expected increase in numbers and admission will be by ticket only. Tickets are now available at £1 each and as the numbers will be limited, you should book now.


* Closing date for Irish entries - 17th August, 1970
* Official campsite with toilet and litter facilities Leixlip Village.

Liffey 500 m. sprints - Wednesday 2nd September and Thursday 3rd September, venue Islandbridge.



It is important for all competitors in this year's Liffey Descent to note the following major changes in the timing and organisation of the event:-


VENUE: Marquee at rear of Rye Vale Tavern, Leixlip
19.00 to 21.00 hrs. Scrutineering of Canoes 
Checking of Entries 
Issuing of lace Numbers
21.00 to R1.30 hrs. Briefing
21.30 to 22.30 hrs. Scrutiueering of Canoes 
Checking of Entries 
Issuing of Race Numbers


12.30 hrs. All competitors report to gates of Straffan House where final spot clock for buoyancy, safety equipment and numbers will he made by marshals before competitors are allowed inside to the launching point.
13.30 hrs. START comnences
15.45 hrs. approx. First FINISHERS at TRINITY BUT HOUSE - above Islandbridge Weir.
Also Note: Official Campsite for ALL competitors at Leixlip Village 
(Enquire at Rye Vale Tavern')
Prize-giving & Supper Dance: Marquee at rear of Rye Vale Tavern, Leixlip, 20.00 hrs, - Tickets £l per person Available from all club secretaries or Mrs. A. Lawrence. Celbridge, Co. Kildare.



Patsy McCann

The following article was taken from "Kayak" magazine October 1970:


Patsy McCann

Six months before the Liffey Descent, I regarded canoeing as a pleasant Sunday afternoon sport for retired gentlemen. After six months of having A.F.A.S. capsize me, push me over weirs, plunge me into 10' high surfing waves, and generally initiate me into the gentle art of canoeing; I decided that canoeing is not a sport to be recommended to retired gentlemen.

I decided to try this "Liffey Descent" that the canoeing in-crowd talk so much about. So Margaret Sarsteiner and I suggested to A.F.A.S. that they should sponsor us, and after their gales of laughter had died down, they realised that we were serious.

Never before have two people gone into anything that they knew so little about! Our first step was to drive up to and inspect Palmerstown, Wren's Nest, Straffan and Lucan Weirs, and promptly to decide that we should portage all four; we then went home feeling that we had achieved something.

On the week before the event, Leslie Hyland gallantly offered to show us some of the river. The first night we paddled from Lucan to Palmerstown in thick fog, and shot the intervening weirs more by accident than by design. On the second night it was so dark that we could have been shooting Niagara Falls for all we could see.

So, our training completed, we rolled up on the morning of Saturday 5th, and gazed at Straffan Weir getting higher and higher, and listened to the experts debating whether to shoot to the right or left. We silently vowed that if we came through that bridge alive, we would give up our riotous living and spend the rest of our lives in sackcloth and ashes in thanksgiving. When all the others started we stayed behind them debating whether to start shooting or portaging. When we got into the queue, and saw all the others going over the top, are took our lives into our hands and shot. It was just great !!! We felt are had completed the course when we emerged at the other side of the bridge in one piece and upright. We paddled on and chatted to two other blokes in our class for about a mile, when one of them suddenly drew into the bank. And so we all stopped while he produced a plastic lunch box with sweets and biscuits and cigarettes from beneath his spray cover. By the time we got to Temple Mills and Vanessa, most of the fleet, was miles ahead, but our two friends obviously knew the course, so we just followed them exactly and came out alive.

We folIowed them down Celbridge Rapids and over the lakes. When we launched again aftter the dam, we discovered that we were alone, so when we came to the Sluice, we shouted at the people on the bank to point to the place where least people had capsized and then we shot. By the time we got to Lucan I was exhausted, and shot at a spot where there weren't any divers, working on the assumption that they would be standing where they expected people to go over. After I had shot the crowd began to cheer madly, and I tried to look like a top-class canoeist as I paddled towards the bridge. At this stage I thought the cheering was a bit prolonged, and when I looked around, I saw Margaret swimming round in the water hanging on like mad to her canoe. No wonder the crowd was going wild! We set off again feeling like two complete beginners. At Anna Liffey, we had a chat with two men in a boat about the best way to shoot, and the general concensus of opinion was to go over the fish pass if we could find it. I found it, but Margaret decided to see what it was like on the other side of the wall and promptly capsized.

At this stage, people on the banks were staring goggle-eyed at us. They couldn't believe that we had left at the same time as the others, and we had great difficulty preserving our dignity, to a chorus of "Here come the very last ones". "Gosh, look here are some MORE coming down", and "Put a shilling in it, missus." At Wren's Nest, the crowd were so experienced in the right place to shoot that they got us over without any mishap. At Palmerstown I was so surprised at the length of the weir that I didn't have time to think about capsizing, and I turned round to watch Margaret coming down. She looked really professional right down to the end where she spoiled it all by capsizing, and I nearly did likewise laughing at her. Further down we had, a short delay when we tried to rescue a scout who had capsized, but I think we messed him up so much that he was glad when we paddled off and left him to it.

By the time are staggered. over the finishing line, most people had changed, showered, stowed their boats and gone; but we were most aggrieved at not getting our bottle of Coke.

The Descent was great fun and very hard work, but we feel jolly proud at finishing, even if we did finished near the end, and looked like Desert Rats.