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

The South Shannon

If you want to know why adjectives like "mighty," "magnificent," and "massive" are so often associated with the River Shannon, cruise from Athlone, the largest town on the river, to Lough Derg, the biggest lake. The sheer size of these waters will make such descriptions seem modest, and the stops along the way will prove equally intriguing.

Ireland's most important monastic site, Clonmacnois contains some of the country's most treasured ancient structures. For centuries, its two Round Towers have cast their shadows over a monastic community that, at its time, was one of the most famous in all of Christendom. The 1,400-year-old collection of high crosses, round towers, and churches still capture the majesty of its first days.
Just downstream, the 16-arch Shannondbridge straddles the river. Built as fortification against a feared invasion of England by Napoleon using the "back door" of the Irish Midlands, this impressive structure still inspires pause for wonder. The Shannonbridge Bog Railway will offer you the opportunity to indulge that wonder and will also put the region's geography into better perspective. Its guided train-coach tours of the Blackwater Peat Bog will visually explain the complex ecosystem of the bog lands in central Ireland.

For more traditional pub entertainment, check out the town of Mountshannon. It's world-known for its traditional pub music and nighttime revelry—and you should get carried away, sail upstream (after a night's rest, of course) to Terryglass where mineral water from the Headache Well provides a hangover cure-all.

When the headache is gone and you're ready for action, continue on to Lough Derg, where you can windsurf, water ski, swim, and sail. All this amid scenery enveloping rolling hills, cathedral towns, and the enduring mystique of the Shannon.

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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