Cruising Ireland’s Shannon River

I spent a week in September ’04 self-cruising up Ireland’s Shannon River, stopping each day to wander about and enjoy some of the ruins, great scenery and picturesque towns.The Shannon empties into Lough Derg, a huge recreational lake. With many marinas and small villages around the lake and along the river, it is a popular place for Irish families and travelers alike to putter about on pleasure craft.

The boats

Two modern cabin cruisers from the Shannon Castle Line (Williamstown Harbour, Whitegate, Co. Clare, Ireland; phone +353 61 927 042 or visit were rented for our group, guests of Tourism Ireland and Shannon Development.

The Blackrock Castle had two cabins and two baths plus a saloon below, a nice bridge and a roomy deck. The rental cost was €2,145 per week. The Rockfleet Castle was slightly larger (and fancier), with three cabins, two baths, a saloon and a more extensive deck area. Its cost was €2,370 per week.

The price included 13.5% VAT and a full tank of fuel. A security deposit was also required: €800 refundable or €16.50 per day nonrefundable. Transfers from the airport or area hotels could be arranged for a small fee.

Our group of six split into two groups, and each person had his or her own cabin or sleeping area. The boats were equipped with everything we needed except food (for a fee, groceries will be provided if you request it). Each compact kitchen had a stove, small refrigerator and sink. Radios and CD players were available on board but no TV.

With the saloon surrounded in glass and several windows in each cabin, the interior spaces felt open and airy and allowed good views of the river.

The Shannon Castle Line supplied excellent charts and lots of information about things to see along the river as well as cell phones to use if we ran into problems.

Sights along the lake

The group took the boats out onto Lough Derg and cruised up to Terryglass at the northwestern end of the lake. Terryglass, a several-time winner of the National Tidy Towns Competition, was pretty and, yes, very tidy.

Each day we stopped to explore and go sightseeing. I really enjoyed visiting the ruins of Clonmacnois, a monastic center of learning and worship that was plundered repeatedly by Vikings in the 10th and 11th centuries. There is a good heritage center on site plus several archaeological digs and a vast graveyard with many ancient crosses and stones.

The old round tower was a vivid reminder of how difficult life was with those pesky Vikings raiding all the time. The sole door into the tower was high up on the second story and could be reached only by ladder. In times of attack, the monks hid inside and pulled the ladder up. If they had enough food, time and luck, the monks would survive while the Vikings plundered away.

Other day trips that I found interesting included hiking along a country road to a 14th-century church; riding a train around a peat bog; visiting the Birr Castle Demesne (which has a huge telescope, a raptor center, park-like grounds and a fascinating museum on the scientific discoveries and inventions of the Parsons family); touring the Tullamore Dew distillery, and visiting Portumna Castle.


The food on this trip was wonderful. Each evening we ate at a great restaurant, often just a short walk into town from the marina. We usually had breakfast on board, and for lunch we either moored for a picnic or stopped at a pub in a town along the river. Being on the water, plus all the walking about, helped keep our appetites keen.

The dress code was pretty casual and I needed only a nice sweater and a skirt or slacks for dinners at the restaurants.

The following were my favorite restaurants from this trip:

The Derg Inn (Terryglass, Nenagh, Co. Tipperary; phone 067-22037 or visit — excellent food and a personable chef/owner. Dinner cost about €30 (near $39).

The Vine House (Westend, Banagher, Co. Offaly; phone 0509-51463) — close to the marina and very cozy. Dinner cost about €28.

The Old Fort Restaurant (Shannonbridge, Athlone, Co. Roscommon; phone 090 9674973 or visit www. — fabulous food, and there’s a fascinating story behind the restoration of the building. Dinner cost about €35.

The Thatch (Crimkill, Birr, Co. Offaly; phone 0509 20682 or visit —
attached to a 200-year-old thatch-roofed pub, and the food was delicious. We took a taxi out to Crimkill as it is pretty far off the river, but it was worth the trip. Main courses for dinner run about €22.

Killeen’s Village Tavern (Shannonbridge, Co. Offaly; phone 0905 74112) — has great grilled sandwiches and a good market for souvenirs. Lunch cost about €8.

Kelly’s Pub (in Portumna) — just down the street from Portumna Castle. It has been in the same family for five generations. Great atmosphere. Lunch cost about €9.

Cruising conditions

The weather in September was quite changeable — frequent rain showers, long sunny afternoons, glorious sunsets and a few rainbows. Gloves and waterproof jackets were sometimes necessary. The evenings got quite cool and I was grateful I had long, warm pajamas and a warm coverlet.

When moored, we found that we needed to make sure the lines were tightened after a rain, since they stretched and the boats moved a little more freely than they should have.

The boats had two locations for steering, one on the top deck and the other inside the saloon. When we ran into rain showers while out on the river, we had a problem because we hadn’t practiced switching the bridge controls from the top deck to the inside. We finally gave up and stayed out in the rain on the top deck to steer the boat to the next tie-up. If we had taken the time to practice while we were at the marina and not out on the river (in the current), it would have gone more smoothly.

I found the pace on the river very relaxing. There was no frantic rush to catch a taxi or train to the next stop, and we didn’t have to keep packing and unpacking. We had snacks and food available whenever we were hungry, and there was lots of pleasant scenery.

Coming to a close

I spent my last day at Bunratty Castle and Folk Park (Bunratty, Co. Clare; phone 061 361611, fax 016 472523 or visit www.shannon The Folk Park is full of reconstructed Irish houses, shops, churches and manors that are staffed by “living history” docents who explain what life was like in each setting.

I made a reservation for the Medieval Banquet held inside Bunratty Castle that evening (€49.95, or $65), which was a lot of fun and a great way to end the trip.

That night I stayed at the Bunratty Manor Hotel (Bunratty Village, Co. Clare, Ireland; phone +353 [0] 61 707984, fax +353 [0] 61 360588 or visit The hotel was a short walk from the castle and village — a great location. The hotel gardens and grounds were very nice, and my comfortable room (€135, with breakfast), with a handicapped-accessible bathroom, looked out at the back garden.

I would definitely like to do this trip again, perhaps touring for a week by car and then coming to the river to relax before heading home.

For information about travel in Ireland, contact Tourism Ireland (345 Park Ave., New York, NY 10154-0037; phone 800/223-6470 or visit