Ireland provides one of the most unique and untouched landscapes in Europe. In particular the wild and rugged west of Ireland is home to some of the most ancient sites in the world. The river Shannon is a natural barrier between the east and west of this Island and has been of extreme importance for thousands of years. Along its low lying callow and winding course the river passes some very important ancient sites and this return seven day cruise from Carrick on Shannon to Killaloe will allow you to visit the very best of these.
Depart from Carrick on Shannon and head Northwest to the beautiful Lough Key and the town of Boyle. In the centre of the stunning Lough and standing alone on an island is the 12th century McDermott’s Castle. The castle was once home the ruling Mcdermott Clan and is one of the most photographed sites along the Shannon. From here you can moor your cruiser at the wonderful Lough Key Forest Park or continue up the Boyle River into the lovely Georgian town of Boyle. In Boyle there are numerous places to visit including the superbly restored Cistercian Boyle abbey, the grand King House and very interesting model railway.
Depart from Boyle and navigate south through the Loughs of Bofin and Boderg and the narrowing river Shannon. The lifting bridge at small town of Roosky is also a novel sight. Continue on relaxing and enjoying the spectacular countryside until you reach the open Lough Ree (Lake of the Kings). This mystical Lough is studded with lots of island and is a place of great myth and Legend. Some of these islands were very important during the early Christian period of the 6th and 7th centuries and many contain ruins of ancient churches and monasteries. The large town of Athlone at the Southern most tip of Lough Ree is your destination and there a plenty of well facilitated mooring points for you to park up for the evening. You will notice the imposing Athlone Castle which dominates the skyline of the town and this has recently reopened after undergoing an impressive restoration in 2012-13. There are tours provided at regular points throughout the day and a visit is recommended before enjoying what the rest of the town has to offer.
Just a few miles south of Athlone is one of the Jewels of Ireland’s ancient offerings. This is of course the ancient monastic city of Clonmacnoise. The site is easily accessed by cruiser and is a wonderful place to spend a morning or afternoon exploring and learning what life was like in 7th century Ireland and of the importance of this great site in European history. Clonmacnoise attracts over 300,000 visitors a year and tours are provided regularly through out the day. Continuing south and you will pass through the towns of Shannonbridge and Banagher. You will notice that both of beautiful bridges which span the Shannon contain Martello forts and while they are very unusual to look at, know that they were built by the British fearing and invasion from Napoleon through Ireland. A few miles after Banagher the Shannon will open again into Lough Derg and there will still be time to visit the Irish Famine Workhouse in Portumna. This is one of Ireland’s most recent and sobering memorials to the great famine of the 1840’s. The exhibition is located in an actual famine workhouse where tens of thousands of people would have died during this time. This popular attraction is a must visit if you wish to gain and understanding of the events surrounding this famine, the causes and the consequences for the nation of Ireland. Portumna is a wonderful and friendly place to spend and evening. The castle marina is well equipped and make sure to visit the great 14th century castle before leaving.
Upon leaving Portumna continue south to the picturesque village of Mountshannon. The scenery is really spectacular here as the east Clare mountains hang over the Lough. You will notice the large round tower and ancient ruins on an island outside Mountshannon and this place is known as Holy Island. It is famous for two things, first is the marvellous ruins and stunning setting and the second thing is Ger Madden who provides wonderful tours of the island and is a fantastic story teller and warm character. A visit here is unforgettable. Another destination not to far away and up the narrow Scariff river is worth visiting is the East Clare heritage centre. This is housed in one of the oldest still operating churches in the world. Dating from the 10th century, it pre-dates St Peters Basilica in the Vatican by some 600 years. The towns of Scariff and Tuamgraney here and lovely places to visit too. The evenings are very long during the summer months in Ireland so the there will still be time for you to cruise down to the southern most tip of Lough Derg and to the medieval and majesticly beautiful town of Killaloe to moor up for the evening.
After exploring the winding streets of Killaloe and visiting the sites of St Flannians Cathedral and the Brian Boru heritage centre next to the bridge it will now be time to start back north but this time along the eastern banks of the Lough stopping of at the lovely little villages of Garrykennedy, Dromineer and Terryglass. Each one of these town has its own superb offering for food and they are renowned places to stay for a meal. Upon leaving Lough Derg you will find that the town of Shannonbridge with its tourist friendly pubs is a great place to spend the evening.
Today is all about relaxing and exploring the areas of Lough Ree that you may have missed on Day 2. The eastern part and the village of Glasson is a particular popular location. At the town of Lanesbrough you can leave your cruiser and hail a taxi to the next location of our ancient cruise. This is the Coralea Trackway or Bog Museum about 10 mile outside the town. The Museum is built around an unearthed stretch of road dating back to 150 BC. The museum also has several exhibitions from this period and is a very interesting visit. After returning to your cruiser it is time to make your way closer to Carrick on Shannon where you will be finishing your cruise in the morning. If you have time, there is a railway museum located in Dromod and this is a lovely location to spend your final evening.
Having enjoyed a wonderful time on the river Shannon, it is time to drop the cruiser back to base. Navigate the winding stretches for the last time, past Drumsna and Jamestown and onward into Carrick on Shannon. This cruise will certainly have been an unforgettable experience.