A new boat has been launched in Carlow to open up the waterways to public river boat trips, thanks to a new social enterprise and its team of volunteers.

Bád Keppel takes to the waters of Bagenalstown this weekend and can carry twelve passengers along the River Barrow, offering a new activity for locals and tourists alike.

Tours kick off on Friday, 10 September and will run until 3 October, with continued late season trips depending on the weather.

James Lakes, volunteer skipper and captain of the boat says it was named after a special volunteer.

“The late Arthur Keppel was a river and boat man who loved Bagenalstown and helped us in the early stages of this project.”

He was well known as a judge in the Barrow Awards each year and knew every town and village that the Barrow flows through.

Sadly, Arthur passed away just as the project started in 2018.

The crew introduced Bád Keppel to the Barrow last weekend for its maiden voyage, a trip to Goresbridge.

Travelling by boat on the river, you can see everything from the little bridges under the bank, to aquatic life such as trout, eels or pike beneath the crystal-clear waters.

“There are picnic areas and sights that not accessible to traffic. You’ll only experience them when on the river,” says James, who says that the sounds of river life are peaceful with the purr of the engine and the sounds of birds overhead and ducks and swans swimming alongside you.

Social enterprise

The social enterprise called Bagenalstown Trip Boats Ltd will run the trips for the next four weeks with the boat, which was built at Fitzgerald Marine in Kinsale.

Bád Keppel will be moored at the quay in Bagenalstown and will travel upriver to Rathellen Lock and to Bagenalstown Lock (or Rae’s Lock).

The trips are short for now but will stretch further next year when the tourist season kicks off.

The enterprise is hoping that local businesses and community groups will connect with them to provide boat tours to local destinations.

Sean Ryan, project manager for Carlow Local Enterprise Office which supported the project says it was a huge effort from the small but mighty community.

“They need to be congratulated for their foresight and commitment. It is a commercial enterprise which shows depth of support and commitment for the area.”

His role was to ensure the commercial enterprise acquired all relevant certification under national guidelines.

He also facilitated the training of the voluntary skippers James Lakes, Michael Lakes, Paddy Gardiner, Paul Gardiner and John and Mark Lawlor.

“All six voluntary skippers were trained up as Inland Waterways skippers with commercial endorsement from Irish Sailing. All skippers were also trained in first aid and sea survival.”

Sean says the area was fortunate to have a group of volunteers to give up their time to manage the project.

“This requires a huge commitment by any volunteer. Becoming a skipper is a responsible task and time consuming. The training and process was an intensive time for them to ensure they have the best qualifications on the boat,” Sean says.

Community effort

He says the project would not have happened without the volunteers and the support of the BIG (Bagenalstown Improvement Group).

“They were pivotal in supporting the process, as were Carlow County Council and the Department of Rural and Community Development.”

Paddy Gardiner, chairman of the Bagenalstown Improvement Group (BIG) which kick-started the project, says the idea was first floated in 2018.

“We saw the need for our own boat to run trips up the Barrow and so we set about a feasibility study to see if we could do something. With the help of Arthur Keppel and the Local Enterprise Office in Carlow, we managed to get the idea off the ground.”

He says they now want to hear from community groups and businesses who would like to work with them to provide trips and tours on the water.

Speaking about the project, Cathaoirleach of Carlow County Council, Cllr Fintan Phelan says, “I am proud to see this project set sail down the Barrow as a result of the partnership efforts between Carlow County Council and the volunteers on the ground in Bagenalstown”.

“Communities play a key role as a catalyst for change in our rural communities and I’d like to congratulate the community in Bagenalstown for this wonderful project”.

Kathleen Holohan, Chief Executive of Carlow County Council says the council was delighted help deliver a new tourism experience on the River Barrow in partnership with the community and with support from the Department of Rural and Community Development”.

“I laud the community for their significant efforts in this project which serves as a case study for how our partnership approach can make innovative, new projects happen at grassroots level in communities and I’d encourage communities to engage with us to support them to realise their project ambitions”.

Bookings for the trips can be made through the Visual Carlow website – click onto “tickets” and follow the links.

There will be three daily trips on Bád Keppel at 12pm, 2pm and 4pm with tickets for adults costing €10 and €5 for children.