by Carol Cronin
Emerald Star, Le Boat’s Irish agents, have spelled out a well-thought out series of itineraries that detail the number of hours underway for each day—and even the number of locks and bridges passed. They also provide the “Navigational Guide to the Shannon and Erne Waterways,” which carefully lays out each marker and navigational hazard (though it doesn’t show water depths). And since many customers have little or no boating experience, an optional pre-departure video and training time is available that includes details about tying up at docks and locks and passing through bridges.
Read our feature, River Boat Charters: Where the Emerald Isle Meets the Shannon
We chose the Celtic Cruise, a one week, one-way adventure between Carrick-on-Shannon and Portumna. The guide lists it as “160 km, 5 locks, 2 lift bridges, 20 hours.” It actually took us more like 26 hours, but that’s because we chose to travel well below full throttle—which resulted in a significant fuel savings.
The guide recommends lunch stops, but we chose to have our lunch underway.
Move aboard in the afternoon, spend the night at the dock and enjoy the town.
Easy cruise through the Jamestown Canal and the Albert Lock. The river widens out for the next five kilometers, and then narrows down between Lough Boderg and Lough Bofin. Lunch at Dromod or Roosky, or continue downstream to Tarmonbarry. Pass through the lift bridge (on request from the lock keeper) and tie up at the dock. Dinner ashore at either the Purple Onion or Keenans.
Pick a light air day for crossing Lough Ree, especially if it’s blowing from the south. Although there are lots of islands, there is no place to overnight after Lanesborough without a major detour. Navigation is easy through a well-marked channel, but the Lough is more like a bay than a river so paying close attention is required. Another option for the night is the Glasson Hotel and Golf Course, which is well-protected from any direction and according to their ad has “superb food served all day” in a “relaxed and informal atmosphere.” Coosan Point across the harbor is the closest pub, but there is also a small pub/restaurant with a great view only a ten minute walk up the road. Ask at the marina office for directions; it’s easy to miss.
A short day today leaves time to enjoy the “big city” of Athlone. Tie up at the Radisson Hotel docks (12 euros per night) which is right in the middle of town. With over 15,000 residents and a rich history, there’s plenty to see here on both sides of the river. There’s also a great supermarket only a short distance away, as well as a small local market right across the street. Athlone is also home to Sean’s Bar, which dates back to the 9th century and has been certified in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest pub in Ireland. The free tourist guide is a great source of places to eat and things to do.
This stretch of river is narrow, well-marked, and beautiful. After passing through the Athlone lock, enjoy the ever-changing view—especially the dramatic appearance of Clonmacnoise, a historical landmark. Tie up at the Shannonbridge dock just above the bridge and walk into town, or for a little more adventure, cross the narrow bridge (which has frequent bumpouts to allow walkers to get out of the way of cars and trucks). The castle guarding the west end of the bridge is well marked with signs explaining its history. Have a quick pint at Killian’s and try to solve the bartender’s wooden “T” puzzle.
Just after passing under Shannonbridge, make sure to keep to port and stay on the River Shannon instead of going straight and passing into the River Suck. (The choices are well-marked.). Once past the Offaly Power Station (powered by peat), enjoy the water meadows and wildlife. Banagher is a possible lunch stop, the home of two rental fleets from Carrickcraft and Silverline. About six kilometers past Banagher is the Victoria/Meelick Lock, a beautiful piece of nineteenth century engineering. Check bridge opening times in Portumna; it’s best to go ashore and walk up to the bridge tender office to pay, and you can pay for a round trip if you like. Once through the bridge it’s a short hop to Terryglass, a small but well-protected harbor in the northeast corner of Lough Derg. Enjoy dinner ashore at either The Derg Inn or Paddy’s Bar, which are side by side.
Return the boat to the Emerald Star base and check out. If there’s time, visit the Portumna Forest Park on foot or by bicycle. Ask a local for dinner recommendations in town.
Photos courtesy Paul Cronin/WhiteCapVideo.com