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The unforgettable waterways of Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands
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The key to Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands is the River Shannon. For millennia it has been the traditional boundary between ‘the West’ and the rest of Ireland. The gentle shrug of water across the surface of Lough Derg makes you want to put down anchor and just float for a few hours. lap up the quiet, cast out a line, or tuck into your picnic basket for a lazy lunch.

Cruise along the waterways of the mighty Shannon and explore the quaint towns of Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands.

1Renting a boat on the Shannon
Rent a boat on the Shannon.

Carrickcraft, Emerald Star and Silverline Cruisers  all have wide a range of rental options from 2-10 berths. They know the area like the back of their hand and are happy to great tips on things to do, from a leisurely cruise to Banagher to a tour of Athlone and Hodson Bay. Most of the rental companies along the Shannon allow you to bring your pet along on your cruising adventure. 

Stay every night in a town or village or escape to the wilderness on remote jetties where you can cook and eat on board in the well-equipped onboard kitchen. 

2Chinese Dragon Boating, Carrick-on-Shannon

Canoe boats with ferocious dragon heads on either end, roar down the clear waters of Carrick-on-Shannon. These Chinese Dragon Boats can be spotted on the river with a helmsman from Leitrim Surf Company steering the course, while the crew rows in unison to the rhythm of the onboard drummer. This is definitely one of the most unique ways to explore the waterways of Carrick-on-Shannon. 

3Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), Killaloe

Strap on a life jacket and set off on an adventure aboard your paddleboard. Stand-up paddleboarding, an old Hawaiian sport, is a memorable and surprisingly simple way to witness the indigenous beauty of the Shannon. Set off from the still waters of Killaloe and float under old bridges and into the wilds of the countryside. 

4Holy Island, Lough Derg

This monastic settlement brims with history. From remnants of the Celts’ potion-making equipment to the Viking raids of the 9th century, the stories of the island’s past cling to the land. With the ruins of no fewer than six churches on this tiny but pious isle, its easy to see where this island got its name.  

For an expert’s insight into this ancient monastic settlement seek out local historian, Ger Madden. His tours from Mountshannon bring this ancient monastic settlement back to life with his wealth of knowledge, and storytelling prowess. Keep a lookout for the white-tailed eagles, Saoirse and Caimin and their chicks, who have nested in the area. 

5Castle Island, Lough Key

The calm waters of Lough Key are dotted with small, lush islands and none are more intriguing than Castle Island. The abandoned, striking McDermott’s Castle stands solely on this uninhabited island surrounded by mature trees and stone walls. Nearby Lough Key Forest and Activity Park is the place to go for anyone looking to learn more about the legend of Úna Bhán and makes a great base for a couple of days by the water. 

Ziplining at Lough Key Forest Park
6Baysports, Lough Ree

For something equally adventurous in County Westmeath head to Baysports, just outside Athlone. It’s an exciting place that’s perfect for families of all ages with an inflatable water park, kayak tours and pedalos. Kids, and adventurous adults, will love playing on the largest floating slide in the country. 

Watch the sunset and pastel sky as you stroll along the Floating Boardwalk at Acres Lake just outside Drumshanbo. It’s a truly magical and memorable way to end your day. 

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