Chugging along watching the magical scenery of Ireland go by from your cosy boat, there’s a major possibility that you could get too relaxed taking in the sights of the River Shannon on a cruiser.
In my teens I was a major failure as a sailor and having sunk my dingy, on more that three occasions, it was decided that a life on the water was not for me. I had however fond memories of family holidays down on the Shannon and my childhood friends and I often spoke, over the years, about “going back down on the Shannon.” The experience always reminded us of relaxing lazy days and a buzzing nightlife.
A fall staycation was on the cards as my friend, a pilot, was opting out of a busman’s holiday by refusing get on a airplane. Enter SilverLine cruisers, a rental service right on the Shannon, and a short drive from Dublin to their office in Banagher, County Offaly.As I don’t even have a driver's license and the pilot has eminently more experience in parking large vehicles our roles were decided immediately. I was head deckhand and she in charge of all major helming. The SilverLine team made choosing the right boat for our short trip easy.
We had the boat for three nights and there were plenty of towns we could visit in the area but a slow paced trip, taking in the great outdoors and enjoying the nightlife was on the cards. Although technically on our trip we crammed a lot in, visiting Counties Offaly, Roscommon, Galway, Tipperary and Westmeath, what a peaceful and refreshing trip in was.
Having completing our tutorial on the basics of manning and maneuvering the boat we decided to set off straight away (before nerves got the better of me). Our boat was exceedingly comfortable for two of use over three days. With two bedrooms, a living area, small galley, bathroom, shower and even heating we couldn’t have asked for more. Apart from a few locals balking at the ideas of two girls on a boat by themselves (shock horror), we had no problems whatsoever handling our cruiser.
Heading north we arrived in Shannonbridge, in County Offaly, in two just two hours. This was by far the most quintessential Irish small town of all those we visited. With the 200-year-old Old Fort serving wholesome Irish fare, the pub-come-grocery store Kileen’s at the top of the town showing the All-Ireland and Luker’s Bar, with its old world charm and live music I would happily have stayed on.
Though we docked in the midst of a downpour the soft Irish weather didn’t dampen our spirits. Our first stop was Kileen’s bar to watch the All-Ireland final between Dublin and Kerry. One half of this business is a serve-all grocery shop where older men quietly supped their pints and oversaw all goings on The other half is a cozy wood lined pub with thousands of business cards decorating the bar from far flung places like Colorado and Japan.
For dinner we crossed the river, entering County Roscommon, and went back in time at the Old Fort Restaurant. This building was originally constructed in c.1810 as a bridgehead defense against Napoleon. Now the painstakingly restored fortress is a family run restaurant serving bistro level food and craft beers.
Back on the other side of the river we were drawn in to Lukers, a bar opened back in the 1750s. In the old parts of the bar (to the left) you’ll find the towering shelves of the former shop and in the next room a is a 300-year-old living room, including one of the only functioning Victorian fireplaces left in the British Isles. Next-door we found a packed bar, an a trio of Irish musicians playing everything from Christy Moore to Avicii and Kodaline in a bright modern pub.
Our hike back to the boat was about 30 seconds and downhill...ideal.
Although we could have easily visited the 12th century monastery of Clonmacnoise, just north of Shannonbridge, our plan all along was to visit Lough Derg, a childhood favorite of the pilot’s family, and home to wide open waterscapes and pretty towns.
Our trip took almost six hours, to Terryglass, but the time flew by as we were kept entertained by eating fresh soda bread and drinking gallons of coffee. Along the way we dealt with the Victoria Lock, manned by exceedingly helpful staff, and a very patient dog, and the Portumna Bridge, which swings open. These two events were about as much excitement as our relaxation-addled minds could handle.
Our boat pottered along until the entrance to Lough Derg when I was warned that there could be some waves. This is the second biggest lake in Ireland and to be out in the middle of it, even on a fine day, was pretty exciting.
We docked for the night at Terryglass, in County Tipperary, for the night. This picturesque town is serenely quiet and contains in its center just Paddy’s Pub, the Derg Inn, a grocery store, and an interior design shop. We spent the evening in Paddy’s with some seriously delicious fish and chips and an Irish coffee.
The next day we explored the area and found the two holy wells, St Colum’s and St Augh’s, said to cure headaches and eye health issues. The wells were clearly still visited by believers who had left tokens such as scapulars and even hair elastics as offerings.
After a full Irish breakfast we set off, back up north, to Banagher. Sadly the end of our journey on the boat. At five o’clock (which quickly became known as “gin and tonic o’clock”) we had docked to watch the sun go down, below the bridge, from the boat’s back deck.
Walking up the town we passed closed hotels, restaurants, and shopfronts - stark reminders of how hard Ireland was hit by the recent recession. We stopped at Flynn’s pub for a good feed before joining the rest of village, or so it felt, in Hough’s pub for live music.
A family run pub the walls, shelves, and furniture of Hough’s tell a history of decades of live music, packed out summer evenings and patronage of talented artists. This was definitely the most interesting bar we visited on our trip.
Sad to handover the keys to our SilverLine boat we hit the road for our next escapade. As you can tell the boat life had its stresses, and frankly as an inexperienced deckhand I did have my bruises, so we decided to head just 40 minutes back north to Hodson Bay Hotel.
Just five kilometers from Athlone, in County Westmeath the stately hotel’s spa treatment was just what the doctor ordered. After a massage, facial and an hour in their thermal suite we indulged in a three-course meal, all part of a reasonable spa pamper package.
It was almost 20 years since either of us had been down the Shannon on a boat. After four days of lolling around, reading and watching the beauty of Ireland go by we vowed that we would be back next year and next time we’d rent a larger boat, to fit all our friends.