Irishman Kayaks River Shannon for Charity
Bruised ribs, stormy weather and a capsized kayak – Irishman Garry McGovern faced it all when he undertook a gruelling week-long paddle trip down Ireland’s River Shannon.
All in the name of charity, reflecting on the experience two weeks later McGovern tells Travel Ireland: “Every experience in the average lifetime of a kayaker, I managed to squeeze into a week.” This is particularly impressive given the 47-year-old has described himself as a ‘total newbie’ when it comes to the sport.
Speaking about where the idea came from to kayak from Dowra, Co Cavan to Killimer, Co Claire via 300km of the country’s largest river, McGovern says: “I’m into endurance sports like marathons. I’ve done three Ironmans [long-distance triathlon races]. Last year, 11 days before the Dublin Marathon, I got a severe groin injury – an adductor avulsion. It meant I couldn’t run.”
“Around Christmas time, I’m like: ‘What the hell do I do now? I can’t use my legs. I need something to occupy my time. I thought: ‘Well, the upper body still works.’”
Shannon 300 was not McGovern’s first adventure for the greater good this year. Last July, he raised over €6,000 for mental health charities in his family home’s area of Blacklion/Belcoo. This was by becoming the first person to swim the 4.2km length of Lough Macnean.
While that swim lasted about an hour and forty minutes, the River Shannon kayaking journey was an entirely different kettle of fish, one originally intended to happen over five days. “I don’t do things by halves,” says McGovern. “When I get an idea, it has to be the biggest and maddest. I couldn’t think of anything madder.”
As soon as the kayaker set sail, however, adverse conditions turned five days into seven. “We weren’t really planning on Hurricane Lorenzo making an appearance. The weather was against me from the very beginning.”
“The plan was to get started at 8.00 am on the Monday morning but I couldn’t hit the water until 11.30 am because of flooding. Then, I got caught up in trees after only just a few kilometers.”
The turn of events gave McGovern a scare: “It was pretty hairy. I was on my own. A friend of a friend died in very similar circumstances, getting caught in flood water and being pinned against a tree. That flashed in my mind. Luckily, I managed to free myself. It was one of the scariest things of my life.”
That wasn’t the first issue which affected McGovern’s journey, which consisted of eight hours of paddling a day: “On the Thursday, I was trying to make Portumna before Lorenzo really kicked in. But the winds started picking up big time. I had to change my stroke and lean forward and really start digging to power through the waves. I was battling against them.”
“I pulled a muscle in my ribs at that stage. There was not much I could do. It was painful but I had to get through it. I was taking Ibuprofen and whatever else to dull the pain. I’m still strapped up.”
Meanwhile, on the second last day – after travelling 220 kilometers – McGovern’s kayak capsized. “It was a tough battle to get to Killaloe. For four hours, I was pounding through wind and waves. By the time, I got there it was all calm. I was like: ‘Okay, I can relax a little bit. I’ll get out somewhere down here. I’ll get something to eat and shake the legs before I start again.”
“I wasn’t paying attention to which arch I was meant to go through under a bridge. I went into one that was the closest to the shore. That’s where the fastest water is and where a pier was. By the time I noticed, I was like an idiot talking to the camera [posting a Facebook live video for his page @theshannon300].”
McGovern jokes about the incident: “Don’t talk on the phone while driving. Don’t talk on your phone when paddling in fast waters.” However, he notes it could have been more serious: “I wasn’t wearing a helmet. It was a steel and wood pier. I could have gone the other way and easily banged my head.”
On top of the above, McGovern cites the isolation as being another reason why Shannon 300 was the toughest thing he’s ever done: “The solitude was like nothing else I’ve known. For hours upon hours, the only living creature you see is the odd swan or maybe a cow in the field. That was day after day after day.”
However, there was some upsides to the adventure. McGovern relished the opportunity to set up camp for the evenings wherever he wanted along the Shannon. “It ended up being a case of wherever I lay my canoe, that’s my home. It turned out to be the best.”
“I’d pitch up my tent, blow up my bed, put on music and cook up coffee, noodles, soup – whatever I was eating. I had sunsets every evening. I was cut off from the world. I didn’t have to worry about anything. The feeling of freedom was immense.”
As well as this, McGovern raised over €3,500 for three Irish charities (Irish Cancer Society, ISPCA and Samaritans Ireland) and three British charities (Cancer Research UK, RSPCA and Samaritans UK). This combined with his July swim means he gathered nearly €10k for great causes this year.
If those reading in the Republic of Ireland would like to donate to McGovern’s selected charities, visit www.justgiving.com/teams/TheShannon300-IRL. Those living in the UK and Northern Ireland can visit www.justgiving.com/teams/TheShannon300. Meanwhile, to see videos McGovern captured of his Shannon adventure, check out www.youtube.com/user/garrymcgovern/videos.