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Family of man killed in kayak tragedy considers legal action


Philip Kelly (left) and Connie Smith, who drowned in the tragedy on the River Clodagh

Philip Kelly (left) and Connie Smith, who drowned in the tragedy on the River Clodagh

Philip Kelly (left) and Connie Smith, who drowned in the tragedy on the River Clodagh

THE family of a man who drowned on a kayaking trip is considering legal action over the lack of warning signs at a weir, which accident investigators have now classed as "impassable".

Experts reviewing the deaths on April 7 last year of Philip Kelly (31), from Aherlow, Co Tipperary, and Connie Smith (34), from Killashandra, Co Cavan, found the route on the Clodagh in north Waterford could not be passed by boat.

The men drowned after getting stuck in a weir at Portlaw, which is too short for kayaks and canoes, no matter how heavy the flow of water.

"We are very angry that adequate signage was not in place at the time of Philip's death," Mr Kelly's brother Pat told the Irish Independent.

"We feel we are also owed a response from whoever was responsible for the design of this weir."

Experts reviewing the deaths found that the men drowned at the dangerous weir where lifesaving equipment, which had previously been damaged by vandals, had not been replaced.

The weir has been described by investigators from the Marine Casualty Investigations Board as "dangerous and unnavigable". They recommended that it should not be used in its current form.

The two men were kayaking with another friend, Derek Elliott, from Knockaderry in Co Limerick, on April 7, 2010.

Arriving at the weir at about 7.55pm, they found the river "quite swollen" and decided to exit the water.

However, at an old, disused factory, known locally as 'The Tannery', they heard dogs barking and, believing there were security dogs free to patrol the area, decided that "running the weir" was the safer course.

Connie Smith got back into the water first but when he didn't emerge on the far side of the weir, Philip Kelly went in after him. Both shouted at Derek Elliott to get help.


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Mr Elliot met a man living locally who got a washing line and made several attempts to throw it to the two kayakers. However, neither Connie nor Philip reacted or made any attempt to catch the line.

The fire service was "unable to effect a rescue", so the Dunmore east Coast Guard was enlisted.

Waterford County Council said lifesaving gear and warning signs about the weir had since been installed on the Clodagh.

"The reality is these two fine men, who are from very large extended families, are now gone and neither family will ever get over that loss," said Pat Kelly.

"We feel if signs had been in place that day, warning them how dangerous it was, they would be with us today. We are discussing taking legal action."

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