'Hidden gem' is potentially one of the most over used terms in travel. When it comes to Leitrim, however, the glove fits. This is Ireland’s least populous county (it got its first set of traffic lights in 2003) and it cradles the mythical source of the River Shannon. Its rural landscape is the go-to getaway for cruise boats looking to escape the rat race.
If you like water, you’ll love Leitrim. The county is brimming with lakes and rivers, and those lakes and rivers are brimming with bream, tench, rudd, roach, salmon and pike. Cruisers can stop at picture-postcard villages like Drumsna or Dromod, or thread their way into Northern Ireland via the Shannon-Erne Waterway. Its 16 electronic locks mean you’ll hardly break a sweat.
If you really want to hide away, why not leave your phone behind and hit Lough Allen for a bout of windsurfing, sailing or wilderness therapy? Picture yourself paddling out to a deserted island for a primer in fire-making and bush cooking. Sleep under the stars. Imagine tucking into a bowl of fresh nettle soup, washed down with dandelion tea.
“I lived to 40 without ever hearing [Leitrim’s] name spoken,” Booker Prize-winning author DBC Pierre has written. “But the second time I saw it, I stayed; and I say second time, because the first made it clear I had to nip back and grab my belongings.”
Leitrim’s most famous literary association, of course, is poet and playwright William Butler Yeats. His faerie laden poem from 1886, The Stolen Child, evokes “wandering water” gushing on the hills above Glencar. Visit today, and you’ll find the same cascade at Glencar Waterfall – particularly after a romantic shower of rain.
But wordsmiths aren’t the only ones drawn to the waters and the wild. In recent years, Leitrim has seen a steady trickle of artists and craftspeople taking up residence in its quiet countryside, dispatching jewellery, ceramics, bags and textiles all over the world.
Come to Carrick
In fact, over 250 artists and craftspeople can be found at work in Leitrim today. You could browse their wares at Leitrim Design House: a reboot of Carrick-on-Shannon’s old courthouse, this grey building now hosts everything from Tai Chi classes to designer teapots.
Carrick is Leitrim’s beating heart, the cruise capital of the Shannon, and an ideal place for a mosey from the marina. Grab a beef and Guinness stew at a gastropub, or check out Costello Chapel, a souvenir-sized memorial with a big heart. Erected by local merchant Edward Costello after the premature death of his wife in 1877, the couple’s coffins still rest under glass today.
A unique portrait of love, in "lovely Leitrim" perhaps? Edward wasn’t the first man to fall in love in Leitrim. And he won’t be the last...