by Carol Cronin
We recently published a feature about chartering on Ireland's Shannon River. Here are some answers to common questions.
View a 7 day itinerary of the Shannon River
Ireland has two international airports: Dublin and Shannon. Carrick-on-Shannon, the home base for LeBoat and other Irish hire boats, is a three hour train ride from Dublin. Portumna (where we ended our cruise) is a one hour taxi ride to the Shannon airport, the closest location for car rentals and public transportation.
We chose Le Boat’s Celtic Cruise, a one-week, one-way itinerary south to Portumna, and the well-organized suggestions for docking and dining fit our wishes perfectly. Travel times varied from 2-5 hours per day, leaving plenty of afternoon and evening for shoreside adventures—or just hanging out in the well-heated cabin, reading or napping. It may sound obvious, but traveling on a river offers only two real navigation options: upstream, or down. Since we’d already chosen “down,” the only decisions left were how far to go each day, and we based that (mostly) on local advice about where to eat dinner each evening.
Anchoring was strongly discouraged (no windlass and an enormous anchor), so expect to tie up to a dock each night. Navigation is not permitted after dark, but with so many hours of daylight during high season that isn’t at all restrictive.
Engineer Thomas Rhoades is commemorated on several plaques along the 160 kilometers we transited, and we thanked him each time we passed through a lock for building them well enough to last into the twenty-first century. Enormous wooden beams hold planking that (while not completely watertight) hold back most of the higher water. The entire structure is strapped together by a diagonal of thick metal. The moss and grass growing between the planks only emphasized the age and solidity of the structure.
The doors (controlled these days by hydraulic arms instead of manpower) open and close smoothly and quietly. Small ports can be opened to drain water downstream or to top up the lock again to upstream levels. All the locks on the Shannon are manned, and for a small fee (€1.50 in 2012) each lock keeper handled our lines and told a few local tales while manipulating the levers to drop us down to the next level.
During our cruise (April, 2012) the Shannon’s water level was rather low, so currents were slow to non-existent depending on the width of the river. We were still happy to be traveling down-current, especially since a biting northerly wind dominated the week’s weather.
The cruising guide offers many suggestions about where to eat within walking distance of each dock. Locals are also a great source of information. Pubs and hotel restaurants both serve food and often share a kitchen. Pubs are lower key, usually a little less expensive, and more apt to provide casual interaction with the locals. Food is identified by the region where it was grown/produced (if not by the actual supplier). Most places offer a varied menu, and many even identify vegan options.
High season is from June to September, though the bridge months (April-May, October) can be very pleasant and will be less crowded. Though it rains a little on most days, it never rains very hard or for very long (which may explain why the locals never carry umbrellas).
We packed warm clothes and foul weather gear, and we wore everything we brought (except an optimistic pair of shorts). The LeBoat cruiser was well equipped with warm blankets and linens. Walking shoes are recommended that are stout enough to handle cobblestone streets and sometimes muddy paths. And since the next mark was always within sight, we never missed a compass or GPS.
Photos courtesy Paul Cronin/WhiteCapVideo.com