Think of the River Shannon as a very pretty watery link. Along its 330 or so miles of curves, it connects Ireland’s lakelands region by winding through and between 11 counties – Cavan, Leitrim, Longford, Roscommon, Westmeath, Offaly, Tipperary, Galway, Clare, Limerick and Kerry – eventually meeting Fermanagh’s Lough Erne. Not bad for just one river.
Then again, the Shannon is eager to please. Fancy a stroll around a handsome estate? We give you Emo Court House and Gardens. Keen to see what was once the world’s largest telescope? Pop into Birr Castle Demense. And that’s before we’ve even mentioned Belvedere House in County Westmeath, St John’s Castle in Limerick City or the crumbling ruins of Clonmacnoise. Like we said, it’s eager to please.
The best way to see the Shannon, however, is a matter of taste. We give you five options.
We begin with an obvious one: paddle power. Keep things simple by getting help from specialists in canoeing adventures, there are plenty around the region. Top of the paddling pile is the 50 mile canoe trail stretching all the way from Shannonbridge in County Offaly to the twin towns of Killaloe/Ballina on the Clare-Tipperary border. Think rich selections of birds and wildlife and stretches of perfect quiet. If time is on your side, stop off for a pub lunch in Banagher’s Brosna Lodge.
From paddle power to pedal power, the Shannon Corridor has seven cycle routes, some of which reach as far as the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare. According to Lonely Planet in 2010, the route between Milltown Malbay and Doolin in west Clare ranks fifth best amongst routes from all over the world. We particularly like their description: “Beginning in fertile lowlands flanking the Shannon estuary, this route rolls past golden-sand beaches to the dramatic Cliffs of Moher facing the Atlantic”.
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Peddles and paddles aren’t for everyone. Pick up your own vessel from Leitrim’s Carrick-on-Shannon and cruise all the way to Limerick city on board a luxurious cruiser. Boat hire means that you call the shots. That cute village, that buzzing marina or that crumbling abbey are all yours to choose from and on your own time. If you do go down that watery route, the chart of the Shannon-Erne Waterway showing the location of locks and facilities will come in handy.
Back on dry land and it’s time to explore the Shannon Waterway Walks. Trust us – there are quite a few to choose from. First off is the Medieval Limerick Walking Trail, which weaves its way through the medieval quarter of the city. Keep a sharp eye out for the Anglo-Norman influences in buildings along the route. The second is a stretch along the Lough Derg Way, where old whiskey stills and idyllic views of Youghal Bay are the highlights. Last but not least, lose yourself in the natural beauty of the Glenafelly Eco Walk. This is a gentle introduction to the more remote regions of the Slieve Bloom mountains in County Offaly. Oh, and don’t forget your camera.
Chances are, that any road trip in Ireland will hook up with the Shannon at some point. If you find yourself in Limerick, start at the river’s end and arrive in rugged north Kerry by following the southern coastline of the estuary. It’s thanks to the river’s waters that the Shannon region is so green. Do the scenery justice by taking your time on a scenic tour from Kittycloghar to Mohill in County Leitrim. Must-sees include the astounding Arigna Mining Experience and Swan Island Animal Farm on the shores of Lough Garadice.
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