This venture started when a special offer that included airfares, car hire and bed breakfasts became available for October 2003. I had been researching, on the internet, cruising the canals of Europe. An article about cruising in Ireland claimed that it was the best kept secret and was so delightful. In particular it suggested that late September early October was an ideal time as the waterways were less crowded. In addition some of the companies had special offers at this time.
A number of our friends had indicated that they were interested in accompanying us, in 2004, if we arranged a cruise on the canals. When the offer became available at short notice for 2003 one couple was prepared to join us. After discussions with them we booked our airfares and decided on a “Clipper” from Crown Blue Line. This 36 foot boat had ensuite cabins fore and aft.
We flew out of Perth on the 1st of October and spent two nights in a hotel in Dublin before catching the train to Carrick on Shannon on the Friday morning. Luckily we arrived early at the Connolly Station and managed to get a seat before most of the students going home for the weekend arrived. Incidentally they had a quaint rule, which they don't divulge when you enquire re ticket purchases, no one way tickets are sold on Fridays or Sundays only returns.
After spending Friday night in a B&B we made our way to the Crown Blue Line Marina with our luggage. Here the staff advised that the boat might be ready early and gave us an area to store our luggage whilst we went into the town to purchase supplies. The shops we used arranged delivery to the marina and the Crown Blue Line staff organised delivery of our luggage and supplies to the boat.
After we had checked the provided equipment and stowed our baggage one of the staff arrived to familiarise us with the boat and its handling. After a very short cruise down the river he decided that we were experienced boaters and we returned to the marina for replacement of a tachometer that had stopped working. By then the wind had picked up and we decided to spend the night in the marina and enjoy another meal at Cryan's where we'd eaten the previous night.
A beautiful sunrise in the marina with white swans paddling around the boat greeted us on this our first full day. After a leisurely breakfast we headed north to visit Lough Key. At Clarendon we experienced our first lock. Going through turned out not to be a problem. One of the lock keepers had lived in Australia for some years so some good natured shiaking as well as assistance and advice. Continued into the Lough Key wilderness area and did a little exploring around Boyle. As it was raining decided to return to Carrick on Shannon. Spent the night back in the marina and by now had become regulars at Cryan's pub.
Our second day we were a little late getting under way after going for a walk into the village and doing some shopping. Headed south weather windy and overcast. As the boat had central heating we were quite snug inside. Prepared and ate lunch on the move and arrived in Dromod harbour early afternoon. Explored the village and had coffee in the pub. Decided that we'd best eat some of the food we'd bought so ate on board.
Tuesday woke to good weather, breakfast and then a short walk to get milk and then set off before 9 o'clock. At the Roosky bridge we had to call to check if we could proceed without it being lifted. In this case were able to but further down had to wait for the Tarmonbury bridge to lift. Explored the village before proceeding down to the lock. We had been advised not to attempt Lough Ree in high winds so, as the weather was good and winds light decided we should continue down the Lough. Farmlands down to the edge of the Lough and Islands with ruins made for an interesting, relaxing cruising day. Arrived at Hodson Bay in late afternoon and tied up in the marina before visiting the Large 5 star Hotel and Conference centre there. Needless to say the pub meals were more tempting than cooking on board. The waiter pointed out that there was a little island in the Lough, just off the marina, which was the dead centre of Ireland.
Refilled the water tanks and disposed of the rubbish before setting off for a walk. Discovered the resort golf course and walked along its boundary. Less than an hour cruising brought us into the centre of Athlone and a secure marina where we tied up before exploring the town that is built on both banks. Had to be careful walking across the ancient narrow bridge because there is little room for cars and pedestrians. Lovely old castle is perched on the commanding hill overlooking the river and provides a good view of the town. Spent the rest of the day exploring the town and of course the shops. Athlone is the largest town on the Shannon.
Bells on the church signalled 9.30 as we departed the marina but we had to cruise in circles waiting for the lock to open. After cruising for a little over two hours we arrived at the ancient monastic village ruins of Clonmacnois. This area is very exposed and on this day extremely windy. Proceeded up the hill to the visitors centre. Very interesting couple of hours spent watching a film and exploring the ruins. Continued to Banagher but winds still strong so managed to get a pen in one of the Carrick Craft marina before exploring the village. Decided to cook on board, as it was very windy outside.
Friday dawned fine and fairly nippy. The windscreen fogged up so decided to drive from the fly bridge. Rugged up and it was quite pleasant. Along the banks below Meelick Lock there was a group setting up for a fishing contest. They had their seats and coffee and were settling into their drawn locations. This competition is a catch and release so they each had a net holding bag in the water. Arrived at the Emerald Star / Crown Blue Line marina in Portumna before lunch. Found the washing machines and put some washing on before heading off into the town to explore. Found a pub that was offering a nice roast lunch at reasonable price. Also found the library and checked out our e-mail. Did a little shopping before heading back to the marina. Having eaten out for lunch opted for drinks and a light evening meal on the boat.
Left the marina at 9.30 but still had to circle whilst waiting for the swing bridge to open. Proceeded to Terryglass a very pretty little village with old-fashioned holiday cottages for rent. Walked around the village, bought some supplies and returned to the boat for morning tea. Continued on to Kilgarven which we found had been developed into a spa resort. A local suggested that we spend the night at Garry Kennedy and go to Larkin's the singing pub. The harbour was very small and we moored in one back corner. When we left for the pub to have a meal there were only 5 boats in it. When we returned that evening there were 13 boats rafted up 3 abreast. Garry Kennedy is very old and quaint.
Next morning being Sunday we were late rising but that didn't matter as we were hemmed in. After breakfast we wandered around the village taking photos. Around 10 o'clock we started the motor and the yachty moored against us surfaced to enquire if we wanted to leave. On enquiring whether he'd had a good night singing he replied, “I believe I did”. With that he cast us off so we could depart. Having manoeuvred out of the harbour we proceeded to the twin town of Ballina – Killaloe where we arrived before lunch. Lunched at the Galloping Hogan's in Killaloe where friends had taken us in 1995. After lunch we crossed over the bridge, which was a bit of an adventure because of the narrowness and lack of footpath, to Ballina. Found a little 12th century church built completely, including the roof, of stone. Returned to the boat and as this is the southern end of the navigable section turned around and preceded back along the western shore to Mount Shannon.
Monday morning dawned with a thick fog blanketing the marina. Leisurely breakfast before the fog lifted enough to proceed. Drove from the fly bridge but although I was well rugged up it was still very cold. We had intended crossing over to Dromineer but because of the fog decided to remain on the western side and proceed back to Portumna. Berthed in the Castle Harbour and walked up to the town. It was a lovely walk past the castle and through the ruins of an old Priory. We had lunch in town before returning to the boat and heading back to the Emerald Star marina where on arrival we refuelled. Total fuel use including heating was 116.6 litres for ten days cruising. The engine registered 32 hours cruising time. That evening we walked across the swing bridge and went to a lovely pub for tea. One of the locals complained of the drought as they had not had rain for a fortnight!
Tuesday and it was time to complete our packing and cleaning of the boat. We all felt a little sad that this marvellous relaxing cruise had come to an end. Our holiday however was not at an end we hired a taxi to take us to Galway airport to collect a hire car and spend 10 days touring and in B&Bs. Our cruise had been nearly at the end of the season and as a result there were very few boats out on the waterways. Most of those cruising were groups of half a dozen men mostly from European countries armed with fishing rods and towing 3 or 4 fishing dinghies. The weather was kind to us and we had very little rain.
We would concur with the writer who said that cruising the Irish waterways was the best kept secret. We can thoroughly recommend cruising the Shannon particularly if you are new to cruising.