Beautiful Spring sunshine added to the atmosphere of excitement and celebration as sporting groups, volunteers, Tipperary County Council and more than one Irish Olympian gathered on the banks of the river Suir this afternoon (Friday, April 7) to launch the Clonmel Sports Hub.
Four and a half years after a group of canoeing enthusiasts came up with a plan in a pub in Clonmel a world-class canoeing slalom course has been created in Clonmel - the only one of its kind outside Dublin.
The quality and design of the new course is such that this weekend up to 400 people are expected on the course to compete in the National Championships in every canoeing discipline - slalom, whitewater, marathon, sprint, polo freestyle and even canoe surfing!
Olympian and CEO of Sport Ireland, John Treacy, said the successful project was a tribute to the cooperation between many bodies - Sport Ireland, Tipperary Sports Partnership, Tipperary County Council, Canoeing Ireland and the local canoeing clubs.
"Everyone worked together to put this in place in Clonmel and it's fantastic to see it happening," he said. "There is a great facility here now for everyone. It's fantastic. It's great to see all the activity here.
"This is what I call utilising our natural facilities," Mr Treacy said of the river. In Ireland, a country of oceans and rivers, this is a sport we should be doing. "This is accessible to everyone here in Clonmel, the county and the surrounding counties."
Describing the river Suir course as “spectacular” Mr Treacy predicted that in ten years time we could see someone from the area going to the Olympics thanks to this facility.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s Sean Kelly cycling around the roads in Carrick on Suir this is where it happens,” he underlined the importance of having sporting facilities in local communities.
Ike Jacob, of Canoeing Ireland, said his association was “absolutely delighted to be associated with this fantastic facility in Clonmel.
“On behalf of of the board of Canoeing Ireland congratulations to all involved- a super job well done.”
Mr Jacob also acknowledged the presence of three-time Irish Olympian canoeist Eoin Rheinisch at the launch.
Martin Nolan of Clonmel Canoe CLub explained that four and a half years ago if a Clonmel person wanted a ‘paddle’ they had to pack up their car and go to Kilkenny or Clashganny in Co. Carlow. He was among a small group that formed Clonmel Canoe Club with the intention of making the Suir better for ‘paddling and paddlers.’
“We are absolutely delighted with what we have here today. It’s for everybody - paddlers, fishermen, people on the bridge laughing at us falling in the river, or people who just like to walk in the park.
“We are going to make Clonmel the centre for canoeing in this country,” he predicted.
Isobel Cambie, Chairperson of the Tipperary Sports Partnership, explained the River Suir Community Sports Hub was exactly that - a sports facility for the community based on the river Suir. The idea and objective of the project is to reconnect people with the river in Clonmel.
Part of the project is funding for education and training programmes around the river and the first canoeing instructors’ training course is just completed.
Chairperson of Tipperary County Council, Siobhan Ambrose, said it was “hugely important” that Clonmel now has the first slalom course outside Dublin.
The Sports Hub will be a huge boost to tourism in the area, she said, stressing that it is free to use.
Competition in the National Championships will take place on Saturday and Sunday and the prize giving will take place in Denis Burke Park at 3.30pm on Sunday. Everyone is encouraged to drop by and cheer on the competitors over the weekend.