Tours Travel

Cruising the hinterland of Ireland for a magical holiday

Inland Ireland cruises are a very popular family and/or friends vacation. There are numerous rivers, lakes and canals from which to explore the beauty of Ireland’s waterways and countryside. It’s a much safer and cheaper option than offshore sailing for the novice sailor and presents great opportunities to meet people along the route. The most popular, by far, is the River Shannon Cruise, which can be done in different segments or all in one as part of a great tour of the Central Column of Ireland. However, many opt for the northern half on a holiday break, and do the other in a follow-up a year later on the southern half of Shannon.

The northern Shannon is considered the liveliest section of the river. There are many small towns and attractive villages on your route, with Carrick on Shannon being the focal point. Even small towns have good moorings and facilities. On the section you will come across beautiful Lough Key, one of the most picturesque areas of Shannon reached via a meandering river and (dominated) lock. Rockingham Forest Park surrounds it and climbing the tower provides spectacular views of the loch. Boyle is the nearest village with many pubs and restaurants for an evening of entertainment. Another option is to go to Lough Allen along a narrow channel and through the village of Drumshanbo. The most attractive feature of the northern route is the fact that you can access Lough Erne via Leitrim via the Shannon-Erne Waterway, a link which opened in 1996.

If you travel south from Carrick on Shannon, you’ll pass the Jamestown Canal, built to bypass Jamestown and Drumsna. Further south is the pretty little town of Dromod, which is well worth a stop, as is the next town, Rooskey, which has some nice amenities to offer. At the entrance to Lough Ree, Lanesborough in County Longford is the next main port of call. Lough Ree is the second largest lake on the River Shannon and this allows for a wide variety of berths. You can head to Portrunny with a new and larger harbour, or head south to Glassan with its fabulous lakeside golf course which is a popular overnight stop. In addition, there is the renowned and award-winning Wineport Restaurant for gourmet dining to end the day in style. On the opposite side of the lake is Hodson Bay, which is home to a modern hotel and facilities and home to the Athlone Golf Course. You will then arrive in the most central city in Ireland, Athlone, the largest city on the River Shannon with shops, restaurants, hotels, pubs, cinemas, sports facilities and much more. This place is worth spending a day stopping at for such are the attractions.

Heading further south, the small County Offaly town of Banagher is ideally located for cruising the Shannon south from Athlone, and is an excellent starting point for cruising the River Shannon’s largest lake, Lough derg. This lake presents a breathtaking view of mountains sloping down to the water and quaint towns like Garrykennedy, Mountshannon and Terryglass dotted along its shores. On the west side of the loch, you can take the small winding River Scarriff to the village of Scarriff. The trip up the tree-lined river with branches hanging over the water is an experience in itself, but it can be dangerous and unnerving for first-time boaters. Lough Derg is a large expanse of open water and currents and winds can be unpredictable and change rapidly. You have to be careful in this section of the trip and if you have any doubts or fears, stay close to the coasts.

The southernmost point of the Shannon are the twin cities of Killaloe and Ballina. This is where the river navigation stops as the Shannon makes its way towards Limerick City and out to the ocean through the Shannon estuary. Killaloe and Ballina are small but prosperous and stylish towns with a great range of pubs and some first class dining experiences.

Depending on who you hire your cruise from, there will be different final docking points. Most operators will allow you to be dropped off at a different point from where you started if you wish, but a better idea is to return to your starting point and explore different attractions that you would have missed on the outward journey. One of these great attractions is the site of the Clonmacnoise Monastery founded by Saint Ciaran in the mid-6th century on the eastern bank of the River Shannon. The site includes the ruins of a cathedral, seven churches, two round towers, three high crosses and the largest collection of early Christian tombstones in Europe and is the most popular stopping point on the South Shannon route.

For those who are navigating rivers and lakes for the first time, the rental company will give them the proper instruction and safety instructions. Navigating the locks is the trickiest part of the journey, but since most of them are manned, this shouldn’t present any problems. The ones that aren’t have automatic feeding, which makes the process easier than anticipated.

For a different vacation, inland cruises are hard to beat and chances are the desire to flow from the experience is to want to come back again.