My Liffey: ‘It’s a real gathering of the community’ - veteran kayaker on the six-decade Liffey Descent

This year, for the first time in its history, the famous canoe race moved to May to ensure water levels were high enough

Canoeing has always been part of Ciaran Maguire’s life, having grown up in Chapelizod in west Dublin, in the valley of the river Liffey.

Maguire and his friends loved watching people from their neighbourhood paddling on the river, some of whom eventually made it to the international stage.

“Paddling always went on when we were growing up. It was very visible in our eyes, so there was no reason why you wouldn’t check it out yourself. It was the same in school: it was just always there and available to us. We were always exposed to it,” he says.

“Chapelizod has a super history with canoeing, with people like Ian Wiley competing internationally,” he says, referring to the Irish canoeist who competed in the European Championships and the Olympics.


A group from Maguire’s housing estate created their own canoeing group after seeing Wiley race. The group paddles on the river together every summer.

In 1991, Maguire took part in the Liffey Descent for the first time. Since then he has completed the race nine times.

The racecourse consists of 10 weirs and one portage. It starts within the grounds of the K Club in Straffan, Co Kildare, and finishes more than 30km downriver towards Dublin at the Garda Boat Club in Islandbridge.

“The race is fun because there are elite guys from all over the world right down to the recreational guys. It’s a great day out for everyone, and you have a great mix,” says Maguire.

It’s funny: now I organise the race, so I’ve been on all sides of it at this point

—  Ciaran Maguire

His love for the Liffey Descent is “about the people” because it’s a “get together for people who might not see each other between Liffey Descents”.

“It’s a real gathering of the community,” he adds.

Maguire qualified as an instructor and in 2020 began working with Canoeing Ireland with one responsibility of his new job being running the descent.

“It’s funny: now I organise the race, so I’ve been on all sides of it at this point,” he says.

In his first year running the race, it was called off due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the second year, restrictions on public gatherings remained in place, meaning there was no prize giving. In his third year the race was cancelled because of “extremely low levels” of water in the reservoir that supplies the river.

This year, for the first time in more than six decades of the Liffey Descent, the race took place in May instead of September, to ensure water levels were adequate to allow the race to proceed.

“We had water this May, so it worked a treat,” he says. “We had good conditions and it was a great day.”