Inland cruising in Ireland is a very popular family and/or friends together holiday. There are numerous rivers lakes and canals from which to explore the beauty of Ireland’s waterways and countryside. It is 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 Shannon River cruise which can be done in different segments or all in one as part of a great trip down the central spine of Ireland. Many however opt to the northern half in one holiday break and do the other on a follow-up a year later on the southern half of the Shannon.
The north Shannon is considered to be the more lively section of the river. There are plenty of small villages and attractive towns on its route with Carrick on Shannon being the centre point. Even the small villages have good moorings and facilities. In section you will encounter the beautiful Lough Key, one of the most scenic areas of the Shannon reached via a meandering river and one (manned) lock. Rockingham Forest Park surrounds it and by climbing the tower you get spectacular views of the lake. Boyle is the nearest town with lots of pubs and restaurants for an evening of entertainment. Another option is to go to Lough Allen along a narrow canal and through Drumshanbo village. The most attractive feature of the Northern route is the fact that you can access Lough Erne through Leitrim via the Shannon-Erne Waterway, a link which was opened in 1996.
If you travel south from Carrick on Shannon, you will go through the Jamestown Canal, built to bypass Jamestown and Drumsna. Further south is the pretty little village of Dromod which is worth a stop over as is the next village, 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 Shannon River and this allows you a great choice of berthing places. You can head into Portrunny with a new, larger harbour, or head south towards Glassan with its fabulous lakeside golf course that is a popular overnight stop. Beside it is the renowned award-winning Wineport Restaurant for a gourmet dinner to round of the day in style. On the opposite side of the lake is Hodson Bay on which there is a modern hotel and facilities and home to Athlone Golf Course. You then arrive in the most central town in Ireland Athlone, the largest town on the River Shannon with shops, restaurants, hotels, pubs, cinema, sports facilities and lots more. This place is worth a day stopping over in such are the attractions.
Heading further down south the small town of Banagher in County Offaly is ideally placed to cruise the Shannon south from Athlone, and is a great staring point for cruising the largest lake on the River Shannon, Lough Derg. This lakes presents a stunning vista of mountains sweeping down to the water and picturesque villages such as Garrykennedy, Mountshannon and Terryglass dotted along its shores. On the west side of the lake one can take the tiny winding Scarriff River to Scarriff village. The journey up the tree-lined river with branches hanging over the water is an experience in itself but can be hazardous and unnerving for first time sailors. Lough Derg is a wide and huge open expanse of water and the currents and the winds can be unpredictable and quickly changing. Care is needed in this section of the journey and if in any doubt or fear, stay close to the shorelines.
The most southerly point on the Shannon is the twin towns of Killaloe and Ballina. This is where the navigation of the river stops as the Shannon proceeds onwards on its journey to Limerick City and out to the ocean through the Shannon Estuary. Killaloe and Ballina are small but prosperous and chic towns with a great range of pubs and some top-class dining experiences.
Depending on who you hire your cruiser from there will be different final berthing points. Most operators will allow you drop at a different point than where you started if you so 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 Clonmacnoise Monastery founded by St. Ciaran in the mid-sixth 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 gravestones in Europe and is the most popular stopping point on the southern route of the Shannon.
For those who are cruising river and lakes for the first time, the hire company will give you adequate tuition and safety instructions. Navigating locks is the trickiest part of the journey but as most of these are manned, this should not present a problem. Those that are not have automatic feed-ins which makes the process easier than anticipated.
For a holiday with a difference, inland cruising takes some beating and the most likely desire to flow from the experience is one of wanting to return again.