IWAI Kildare Member and IWAI President, Alan Kelly was interviewed for the July 2020 edition of Towpath Talk. Our thanks to Alison Alderton, interviewer and Editor of our Inland Waterways News (firstname.lastname@example.org), and Towpath Talk for permission to reproduce this interview, describing the boating life of Adele, Alan and their sons.
Please give me a brief description about yourself.
Born and bred in Tallaght, Dublin, I have lived in Kildare and Laois but am now back in Dublin. I enjoy hill walking and the great outdoors in general. My job becomes a hobby at times and I get involved with all sorts of musical projects from choirs to bands.
How did you become interested in boating and the waterways?
There is no history of boating in my family and my involvement with the inland waterways of Ireland is somewhat of a happy accident. During our college years, my friend and best man Ian Brabazon, purchased a narrowboat (an old Springer, doer upper) and turned it into a very fine bachelor pad. Ian’s father also kept a barge at Hazelhatch on the Grand Canal. In 2003, following a spell of boat sitting and a favourable loan from the bank, Adele (now my wife) and I found ourselves the proud owners of Chimwemwe, Ian’s first boat as he was moving on to bigger and better things. Chimwemwe means ‘gift from God’ and her gifts were many.
Adele and I spent two years living onboard Chimwemwein in Lowtown, Kildare where we were introduced to a wonderful inland waterways community from all walks of life. We also had our first experience of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland (IWAI). Pretty much immediately we became members of IWAI Kildare and the world of meetings and rallies opened up and introduced Adele and me to a great number of passionate waterways enthusiasts, many of whom we still count among our friends and many of whom sadly are no longer with us.
Through IWAI Kildare we were also introduced to the volunteer spirit of IWAI and we soon put our shoulders to the wheel with Adele serving terms as Treasurer and Chairperson and me fulfilling the role of Secretary – though not all at the same time! With the waterways lifestyle now firmly embedded, Adele and I sold our little Chimwemwe and moved on to Rigmarole, spending another 2 years living aboard. Following this, life took over in a way with a house, wedding and Ciarán and Liam our two boys, but we still managed to keep Rigmarole.
What made you want to take on the role of IWAI President and what would you most like to achieve during your term?
Like most other aspects of my waterways journey, circumstances played a large part in my being given the honour of serving as IWAI President. During my term as IWAI Kildare Secretary, I became very involved in the debate around Bye-laws governing the use of the canals. That debate became a campaign and I was asked to join the IWAI Executive Board on that basis. A three-year term as Vice President followed, after which I was elected as President in May 2019.
My key objectives for my term as President are to make volunteering as accessible as possible at all levels of the Association to safeguard its future, to attract a younger voice into IWAI and to explore how we communicate as an organisation in order to achieve this, to strengthen our governance structures in a time when charities and trusts are very much under the microscope and to build on relationships within IWAI and with likeminded external bodies.
What do you believe is the most challenging aspect of your day-to-day role as IWAI President?
The most challenging aspect for me is balancing the demands that being a company Director and Trustee brings with the demands of a young family and a very busy professional life. I count myself lucky that I receive strong support from my wife and family and that I lead a very capable and competent Board who get through an incredible amount of work. It is vital to acknowledge this because all IWAI Board Members serve as Directors and Trustees in a voluntary capacity, while still having to be accountable under Company and Charity Law.
Please tell me about your own boat, the craft’s history, where you have cruised, future plans for boating itineraries.
Rigmarole was built in Newbridge Co Kildare in 2001 and Adele and I became third owners in 2005. She is a 45’ x 10’ cruiser stern barge with 7 bespoke bunks. We base ourselves in various locations on the Grand Canal in Kildare over the winter and travel extensively the rest of the year. We have cruised on both the Grand and Royal Canals, completing the Green and Silver twice, the River Shannon as far as Limerick and north to Acres Lake, Lough Key, the River Suck to Ballinasloe, the Rivers Barrow, Nore and Suir and their tributaries and as far south as Arthurstown in Wexford, the Shannon-Erne Waterway, Upper Lough Erne and a memorable visit to the first section of the Ulster Canal. We have lots more exploring to do including Lower Lough Erne to Belleek and lots of unvisited spots on the Shannon Lakes.
How do you find boating with a young family the pros and cons, extra precautions you may need to take, is this something which you would like to promote, encourage more families to do? Do your own children actively take part in boating and enjoy it?
Young people are the future of IWAI so naturally, I would like to promote their involvement in the Association. Our two sons Ciarán (10) and Liam (7) spend lots of time on board. Ciarán has grown up with the boat, he was 6 days old when he attended his first rally in Edenderry so he has a keen interest in boating, especially following Maps. Liam is less enthusiastic but it’s growing on him.
Boating with children can be challenging with safety always to the fore. This is especially true on longer journeys or when things go wrong but it applies everywhere really. Trips need to be planned with adequate crew to ensure the safety of all on board. Despite this though, I think our boys are receiving a unique education in history, heritage, the environment, teamwork, skill building and lots of fun with kids their own age. What’s not to like!
I believe you are also an active member of the HBA –tell me more about your involvement, would you like to see the two associations (HBA and IWAI) working more closely together to jointly promote the Irish waterways.
We joined the HBA to support their work in preserving Ireland’s Floating Heritage. My wife Adele served as Treasurer for 3 years and we have taken part in some great CICs with the Big Boats and others. The most memorable were the trip to Limerick City via the awe-inspiring lock at Ardnacrusha which drops the level more than 100 feet and the two trips to explore the tidal reaches of the Barrow, Nore and Suir and approximately seven other sister rivers including the Pill, the Clodiagh and the Campile. I am delighted to say that IWAI and HBA have a healthy working and cruising relationship. The majority of HBA members are also IWAI members and we regularly consult each other when addressing challenges and opportunities on our waterways.
Thinking about the future how do you foresee the role of the IWAI, and indeed the Irish waterways themselves, developing?
IWAI is the Voice of the Waterways and is well placed to continue to be that voice long into the future. There is regular engagement and cooperation with statutory bodies and government departments who take on board IWAI views when dealing with waterways related matters. The waterways network is a great untapped resource for slow tourism and general wellbeing and IWAI is flying the flag through its extensive programme of water-based activity, catering for thrill seekers to book readers and everything in between. IWAI in partnership with the RNLI will this year begin the redevelopment of the Association’s spiritual home of Dunrovin on Lough Ree, with the construction of a permanent lifeboat station and an IWAI building on the same site. In the very near future, IWAI will have a base which will tie together the Association’s past, present and future in a secure and sustainable manner.