River Weir was a death trap for canoeists

A river weir in which two men drowned on a canoeing trip is impassable, accident investigators have found.

Experts reviewing the deaths of Philip Kelly from County Tipperary and Connie Smith from County Cavan, on the Clodagh in north Waterford on April 7 last year found the route cannot be passed by small The men drowned after getting stuck in a weir at Portlaw, which is too short for kayaks and canoes regardless how quick or heavy the flow of water is.

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The Marine Casualty Investigation Board found that the men, who were on a trip with Derek Elliott of County Limerick, did not scout out the route beforehand.

However, they said the river conditions, severely swollen by heavy rain, were not necessarily the reason for the tragedy.

Mr. Elliot ran from the weir to raise the alarm when the men got stuck but by the time he came back his friends had drowned. The three experienced canoeists only decided to try to pass the weir after barking dogs forced them to change their minds about walking back to their car.

The board recommended canoeists always walk the riverbank along a route they wish to use before entering the water and also note the effect of rainfall.

The Irish Canoe Union said it would like to see all weirs similar to the Portlaw design identified in order to alert canoeists and kayakers on first-time river trips.

Waterford County Council said lifesaving gear and warning signs about the weir have been installed on the Clodagh. Officials said lifebuoys previously installed on the river were vandalized prior to the accident and were not replaced.

They also warned it is not possible to barricade the weir from canoeists as this would trap rubbish and debris washed downstream and potentially cause flooding.

The MCIB said the weir is impassable because a back flow of water is longer than half a kayak length. The board also called for exit ladders to be fitted in the weir and for all canoeists and kayakers to undertake basic survival training.

The report said the three men had entered the Clodagh on the Curraghmore Estate in Whitestown and had paddled downstream for about half an hour until they reached the weir at Portlaw. There had been a large amount of rain in the area in the previous five days, and the Clodagh was swollen and flowing faster than any of the canoeists expected.

The three men got out of the water above the weir to walk back to their car through the Tannery, a disused factory, because the conditions were so severe. They changed their minds after hearing dogs barking on the riverbank. All three agreed that running the weir was a safer option than being challenged by the animals.

Mr. Smith and Mr. Kelly tried to pass the weir and after getting stuck they shouted to Mr. Elliot to run for help, which he did. However, by the time he had returned, his friends had drowned.