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

Grand Canal, Royal Canal, and River Barrow
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Travelers along the Grand Canal, Royal Canal, and River Barrow waterways might be inspired to have a toast to Arthur Guiness & Co as they cruise through this part of Ireland. When most commercial traffic took to roads and rails, the world-famous beer company kept the waterways alive, sending barges of malted barley up the canals, and barrels of their finished brew back down. Now, the waterways remain active as a retreat for boaters, flowing through a mélange of scenery from the picturesque towns of Monasteravan and Vicarstown to wooded landscapes harboring numerous hiking and riding trails. Restoration along the Royal Canal continues to open up new stretches toward Longford and the Shannon.

Off the shores of the Barrow, Ireland's second longest river, stone structures dot a backdrop of vast green fields. Among them, a 13th-century castle in Carlow County and Bagenalstown's attempt at an "Irish Versaille." Farther downstream, brightly painted houses, hand-knit woolens, and engraved glass lure travelers to the town of Graignamanagh.
The Grand Canal takes you through some 43 locks from downtown Dublin to Shannon Harbor, along with a branch that links up with River Barrow navigable all the way to the ridge waters of Waterforld. Once a bustling trading artery, today's Grand still inspires recollections of its glory days. The quay of Tullamore, a cruising center on the canal, is where Irish Mist and Tullamore Dews—two of Ireland's legendary whiskeys—were loaded onto barges to be shipped to pubs. Unlike the more popular waterways like the Shannon and Erne systems, these shimmering spots offer a genuine window into too-seldom-seen Old Ireland at its finest.


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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