The first time I heard about St. Michael’s Youth Project and their kayaking program was a few weeks ago when the TDU newsletter came out. The second time was when a Facebook post about gear that was taken from their centre in Inchicore went viral on irish kayaking groups and pages. What I didn’t know is that the group was just weeks away from a planned expedition to paddle across the Irish Sea between Scotland and Ireland to raise money for the youth project. On Monday the 12th of May I sat in on a planning session to find out how plans for this ambitious expedition came about and how preparations for the expedition are coming along.

Benny, Niamh, Dean, Dan (Rawat) and Dan (O’Brien) discussing logistics – photo by Maryanne Doyle

St. Michael’s Parish Youth Project

St. Michael’s Youth Project (SMPYP) was founded in 1986 in response to the drugs epidemic in areas of Dublin at that time. The community-based project was funded by the government since its inception to work with young people aged 10-21 in disadvantaged areas through recreational, educational and developmental programs. This initiative was funded by the caring communities
grant, through the Community Foundation Ireland to address the issue of youth unemployment. CDYSB and the Canals drug task force also supported various aspects of the training. In the last three years funding for the project has been severely cut and the current program budget is next to non-existent, resulting in salary cuts to the staff and a threat to the ability of the project to continue this work.

Find out more about St. Michael’s on their website

Introducing kayaking to SMPYP

In late 2013 SMPYP put out a call for new activities to include in the program and application they chose came from Canoeing Ireland’s Development Officer Benny Cullen. A partnership between SMPYP and Canoeing Ireland has been ongoing ever since, with the aim of training young people and equipping them with skills to engage with kayaking as a sport, a passion, a way to give back to their community as instructors and perhaps a way to start a career in the outdoor industry.

In the carpark getting ready for a river trip – photo by Benny Cullen

Let the training begin…

Training began in October 2013 as the group began to learn the basics of level one and two kayaking skills from the Canoeing Ireland syllabus. As the year went on the group participated in a series of river trips and training sessions and have progressed to learning level three kayaking skills and training as level one instructors. The SMPYP centre had seven kayaks and fifteen buoyancy aids, helmets, paddles and wetsuits and once the trainee instructors qualify at the end of their training SMPYP will be able to put these resources to use and teach kayaking to younger members of the SMPYP community.

Getting to grips with moving water on a river trip – photo by Dan Rawat

An unexpected set back

On the 15th of April as the group were preparing to take to the water for training they opened the door of the gear room and found that a hole had been made in the wall and most of the smaller pieces of gear including wetsuits, buoyancy aids, wetsuit booties and helmets were missing. The initial reaction of the youth project community was shared on their Facebook page soon after:


Next the instructor working with the group that day wrote a Facebook post describing the missing gear and posted it to “Canoes and Kayaks for Sale Ireland” the primary group for the sale of second hand kayaking gear in Ireland.

Facebook post by John Pierce, an instructor who was working with the group the day the theft was covered.

Next the post went viral as it was shared a staggering 135 times across individual profiles, groups and pages of kayaking clubs and organisations across the country including the national governing body Canoeing Ireland and the Training and Development Unit’s pages. There was a hugely positive response at local and national levels and a lot of support was expressed.

St. Michael’s Youth Project respond to the wave of support the day after the theft.

Was any of the gear recovered?

One buoyancy aid was discovered floating in the canal in perfect working order. In total five wetsuits and four BAs were recovered with the help of the Gardaí, with the rest of the gear remaining missing. SMPYP are working with young people in the project and the wider community and are hopeful that more of the gear might be recovered.

Deciding to paddle across the Irish Sea

The loss of gear was an unfortunate setback and gave another reason to raise funds: to replace some of the gear and give the kayaking project a better chance of success. The young men who have been training in kayaking since October have been involved in St. Michael’s since they were nine or ten years old, so the project means a lot to them. Over the last few years as the budget has been severely reduced they’ve seen firsthand the need for fundraising to help the project continue to offer the support it does in the community.  The idea to kayak across the Irish Sea (between Scotland and Ireland) came about one training session, initially this idea was met with disbelief, but before long it was a challenge that the group took on as their own as a way to raise funds to help the project.

Group shot on the bank – photo by Benny Cullen

Preparing for the trip

The distance between Port Patrick on the Scottish coast and Belfast is 34km (21mi), or 19 nautical miles and the expedition is predicted to take between seven and ten hours to complete. The team at present includes Dean Dunne, Lee, O’Brien, Daniel O’Brien, Terence Waldron, Daniel McNulty, Shane O’Connor and Niamh Smith as well as Daniel Rawat and Benny Cullen who will guide the trip. The current plan is to make the trip on Tuesday the 27th of May to avail of an ebbing tide which will aid in the journey but this may change depending on weather forecasts. Two of the team, are involved in a local wrestling gym and have arranged weekly gym sessions for strength and endurance training for the group to prepare for the trip. The group are working out the logistics of transporting the team and their gear to Belfast and are looking for a volunteer bus driver to help.

Terence, Dan and Lee discuss logistics – photo by Maryanne Doyle

What can I do?

The project’s fundraising page will be open and accepting donations until mid June, if you can spare an amount of any size to help please do. Donations of kayaking gear are also welcome, especially junior sizes, as the centre is currently understocked to provide kayaking for local children over the summer. Share this article with anyone you think might be interested in the story or able to donate to help get the project back under full steam.

  • Donate to SMPYP:–kayaking-from-belfast-to-scotland-s-fundraising-page.html
  • To donate gear (especially in junior sizes) please contact:
  • To volunteer as a bus driver to help to transport the team please contact:
  • More about St.Michael’s Parish Youth Project:
  • St. Michael’s Kayaking Expedition Facebook page:
Teaching the next generation of SMPYP kayakers – photo by Dan Rawat

Article written by Maryanne Doyle, Training and Development Unit PRO and Clubs Officer