Inland Ireland cruises are a very popular family and/or friends 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. By far the most popular is the Shannon River Cruise, which can be taken in different segments or all in one as part of a grand tour of Ireland’s central spine. However, many opt for the northern half on a holiday break and do the other at a follow-up a year later on the southern half of Shannon.
The North Shannon is considered to be the liveliest section of the river. There are many attractive little towns and villages on your route, with Carrick on Shannon being the focal point. Even the small towns have good moorings and facilities. In the section you will come across beautiful Lough Key, one of the most picturesque areas of Shannon reached via a meandering river and (overpowered) lock. Rockingham Forest Park surrounds it and climbing the tower gives you spectacular views of the lake. Boyle is the nearest town 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 town 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 that opened in 1996.
Traveling south from Carrick on Shannon you will pass through 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 loch on the River Shannon and this allows you a wide variety of docking places. You can head to Portrunny with a new and larger port, or head south to Glassan with its fabulous lakeside golf course which is a popular overnight stop. Plus, there’s the renowned and award-winning Wineport Restaurant for gourmet dining to round out the day in style. On the opposite side of the loch is Hodson Bay, home to a modern hotel and facilities and home to the Athlone golf course. You will then arrive in Ireland’s most central city, 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 such are the attractions.
Heading further south, the small town of Banagher in County Offaly is ideally situated for cruising down the Shannon south from Athlone, and is an excellent starting point for cruising the River Shannon’s largest loch, Lough Derg. This lake presents a breathtaking view of mountains rolling down to the water and quaint towns like Garrykennedy, Mountshannon and Terryglass dotted along its shores. On the west side of the lake, you can take the small winding Scarriff River to the town of Scarriff. The trip down 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 quickly. You have to be careful in this section of the trip and in case of any doubt or fear, stay close to the coast.
The southernmost point of the Shannon is the twin towns of Killaloe and Ballina. This is where the river navigation stops as the Shannon proceeds on its journey towards Limerick City and out to the ocean through the Shannon Estuary. Killaloe and Ballina are small but prosperous and elegant towns with a wide variety 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 than 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 way out. One of these great attractions is the site of 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 route south of the Shannon.
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 a problem. The ones that aren’t have automatic feeding, which makes the process easier than anticipated.
For a vacation with a difference, inland cruises are hard to beat and chances are the desire to flow from the experience is to want to come back again.