Ireland Idyll: A Guide to the Emerald Isle's Waterways

Cruise into the Perfect Escape by Floating through Ireland

When traveling through Ireland, it's not unusual to happen upon local pubs with signs boasting "The Best Craic in Town." Craic—pronounced "crack"—is a Gaelic word that has evolved into an Irish catchphrase for "fun." But embracing the true Ulster-Scots origin of the word involves more than walking through a door and ordering a pint of the house ale (though that's certainly a good first step). For a truly deep appreciation of Irish craic, you'll have to surpass the more traditional brochure attractions of the Emerald Isle: the rolling hills, the superb hiking and horseback-riding trails, the golf courses, and fishing spots. This means not merely taking the road less traveled, but leaving the road altogether by navigating Ireland's waterways.

Still relatively unknown by the mainstream travel industry, boat cruising through Ireland's lakes, rivers, lochs, and canals will let you explore the country's true spirit while avoiding the tour-bus crowds. Whether you hope to cover every one of the entire 300-mile expanse—Europe's largest pleasure-cruising waterway—or even if you have time only for a three-day outing, the gentle pace of a river trip allows plenty of time for side trips to Ireland's other attractions. You can spend one day at the helm of your yacht navigating the Royal Canal or pulling trout out of the River Shannon, the next day hiking among prehistoric pagan monuments at Clonmacnois off the South Shannon before shoving off to a world-class championship golf course further down stream (several line most of Ireland's main rivers).
The Irish have known the joys of pleasure cruising for centuries. One of the world's oldest yacht clubs, Lough Ree, was established in 1770. But sailors first took to Ireland's waterways as far back as prehistoric times, when Vikings used them to raid the Irish countryside. In the centuries that followed, the waters carried mostly commercial traffic. The mid 18th century became known as The Canal Era as many canals were built for both commercial and recreational purposes. Today, commercial traffic is prohibited on the inland waterways, freeing the rivers and lakes for its aquatic explorers.

Practically Speaking
No qualification is required to rent and pilot a boat along Ireland's waterways. Navigation is very straightforward, and a supervised tutorial trip is included with each rental. Moorings are never more than a mile or so apart and you are always close to a marina outfitted with fuel, provisions, and repair services.

Ireland's inland rivers and canals are some of the least congested in the world—most traffic consists of occasional lake boats manned by fishermen long-lining for eels or local farmers transporting sheep to an island pasture.

Cruise ships of all sizes, classes, and specifications, as well as barges and narrow-boats, sailing craft, and canoes are available for hire at strategic points along the Shannon, Upper and Lower Lough Erne, and on the Shannon-Erne Waterway. Choose a boat based on the number of passengers on board (a good rule of thumb: give yourself some extra space—five in your group, go for a boat that sleeps seven; just two of you, go for a four-person vessel). All boats come fully equipped with kitchens, bathrooms, full-sized beds, and captain's quarters, as well as plenty of storage space for fishing gear, photography equipment, and luggage. Individual specifications will vary from boat to boat, outfitter to outfitter. Floor plans are available for review prior to boat rental. Month-long and three- to four-day rentals are possible, as are one-way trips, should you wish to combine your outing with other inland pursuits.

For information on arranging a boating vacation in Ireland, contact the U.S. Irish Tourism Board (345 Park Avenue; New York, NY 10154; 212.418.0800; www.ireland.travel.ie or www.irelandvacations.com or via e-mail: jdaly@irishtouristboard.com). Additional information on cruising in Ireland can be found at: www.shannon-erne.com, www.iwai.ie, and www.shannon-river.com.


Linda Samuel is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.

Published: 18 Oct 2001 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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