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Inland Cruising in Ireland For a Magical Holiday
Inland cruises in Ireland are a very popular family and/or friends holiday together. There are many rivers, lakes and canals to enjoy the beauty of Ireland’s waterways and countryside. It is a much safer and cheaper option than offshore sailing for the novice sailor and offers a great opportunity to meet people along the way. By far the most popular is the Shannon River Cruise which can be done in different sections or all in one as part of a great trip down Ireland’s central spine. However, many people opt for the northern half in one holiday break and follow up on the southern half of the Shannon a year later.
The North Shannon is considered a more lively section of the river. There are many small villages and charming towns along its route, with Carrick on Shannon being the focal point. Even small villages have good facilities and amenities. In the section you will find beautiful Lough Key, one of the most scenic areas of the Shannon, reached by a flowing river and a (manned) lock. Rockingham Forest Park surrounds it and climbing the tower gives you panoramic views of the lake. Boyle is the nearest town with plenty of pubs and restaurants for evening entertainment. Another option is to walk along the narrow canal and through the village of Drumshanbo to Lough Allen. The most attractive feature of the northern route is that you can access it via the Shannon-Erne waterway via Lough Erne to Leitrim, a link that was opened in 1996.
If you travel south from Carrick on Shannon, you’ll pass through the Jamestown Canal, built to bypass Jamestown and Drumsna. Further south is the small village of Dromod which is worth a stop and the next village, Ruskie which has some nice facilities. The next main port of call is Lanesborough in County Longford, at the entrance to Lough Ree. Lough Ree is the second largest lake on the River Shannon and gives you a great choice of berthing spots. You can head into Portruny with its newer, larger harbor or head south towards Glasson with its popular overnight lakeside golf course. Next door is a famous award-winning Wineport restaurant. On the opposite side of the lake is Hodson’s Bay which is home to a modern hotel and facilities and the Athlone Golf Course. You will then arrive in the most central town in Ireland, Athlone, the largest town on the River Shannon with shops, restaurants, hotels, pubs, cinemas, sports facilities and more. Among such attractions this place is worth a day stay.
Heading south to the small town of Banagher in County Offaly, Athlone is ideally placed for cruising the Shannon south and is an excellent point for cruising Lough Derg, the largest lake on the River Shannon. The lake presents a stunning view of mountains stretching down to the water and picturesque villages along its shores such as Garrykennedy, Mountshannon and Terryglass. The small meandering Scarif River on the west side of the lake is accessible to the village of Scarif. A trip down a tree-lined river with overhanging branches is an experience but can be dangerous and harrowing for first-time sailors. Lough Derg is a wide and huge open body of water and currents and winds can change quickly and unpredictably. Care must be taken during this part of the journey and if in doubt or fear, stay close to shore.
The southernmost points on the Shannon are the twin towns of Killaloe and Ballina. River navigation stops here as the Shannon continues to the ocean via Limerick City and the Shannon Estuary. Killaloe and Ballina are small but thriving and charming towns with pubs and some top quality dining experiences.
From there there will be different final berthing points depending on who you rent your cruiser to. Many operators will allow you to drop off at a different point than where you started if you wish, but it’s a good idea to return to your starting point and explore the various attractions you may have missed on your outbound trip. One of these great attractions is the site of Clonmacnoise Abbey, founded by St. Ciaran in the mid-sixth century on the east side of the River Shannon. The site contains the remains of a cathedral, seven churches, two round towers, three high crosses and the largest collection of Early Christian gravestones in Europe, and is one of the most popular stops on the route south of the Shannon.
For those who are cruising rivers and lakes for the first time, the charter company will provide you with adequate instruction and safety instructions. Navigating the locks is the trickiest part of the journey but as most of these are manned this shouldn’t be a problem. Those that don’t have automatic feed-in make the process easier than expected.
For a vacation with a difference, inland cruising takes a bit of a beating, and the desire to flow from the experience is often the desire to return again.
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