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Cruising on the Shannon

Whether you opt for a one-hour or one-week journey—and choose between a guided boat tour or private boat hire—cruising on the River Shannon is a never-to-be-forgotten experience, giving a new perspective on 'ole Ireland.

Think of blissful relaxing times on the river, mooring for lunch at a quayside inn, or sampling traditional culture with gregarious lockkeepers. Along the Shannon's 334-km (207-mile) length you can head to major boating hubs like Athlone, or to historic stretches where it meanders past ancient settlements (such as Clonmacnoise), or to lakes aplenty. The biggest is Ireland's "inland sea," Lough Derg, bordered by easygoing villages like Terryglass and Mountshannon that offer appealingly quiet streets, stone-built cottage restaurants, and rustic harbor-side bars with picnic tables (many with evening music or Irish dancing sessions). Remember, the motto of Shannon cruising is "There's no hurry"—the boats travel at only 11 kph (7 mph), so a river journey is a slow affair with time to drink in the history, wildlife, and inland gems of an older Ireland many thought had disappeared.

When to Go

Good times to cruise are in May through early June. Rentals are cheaper, the waterways are less crowded, the weather is generally favorable, and daylight stretches well into late evening. Whenever you go, get the scoop on permits, moorings, and river by-laws from Waterways Ireland (www.waterwaysireland.org).

A Wonderful Day on the Water

On the map, the scale of the Shannon may look daunting—it is the longest river in Ireland or Britain—but that's one reason why many people opt for an idyllic daylong exploration. If you only have time for a short guided journey, then one of the best is upriver from Athlone to Lough Ree on a three-hour trip on board the Viking boat, costing €10–€20. Or opt to go downriver to magnificent Clonmacnoise. You can also board pleasure cruisers at Killaloe and Dromineer. If you're feeling romantic, try an evening cruise with the Moon River company, which operates a luxurious 100-seater from Carrick-on-Shannon. A detailed commentary is provided on these cruises.

Guided Cruises

Moon River (Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim. 071/962–1777. www.moonriver.ie.)

Silver Line Cruisers (Banagher, Co. Offaly. www.silverlinecruisers.com.)

The Spirit of Killaloe (Killaloe, Co. Clare. www.killaloerivercruises.com.)

Viking Ship Cruises (7 St. Mary's Pl., Athlone, Co. Westmeath. www.vikingtoursireland.ie.)

Going with the Shannon Flow

As the Shannon has its own slow-paced signature—a place where you are alive to the layers of history along the riverside and sequestered villages, which are a joy to explore—why not consider your own boat hire? The beauty of a personal cruise is that you can concoct your own itinerary, moving at your own speed and stopping off where the notion, and the motion, takes you.

There are four main boating towns for hiring cruisers: Carrick-on-Shannon, Portumna, Banagher, and Williamstown. From luxury cabin cruisers to barges or smaller boats, a glittering array of vessels is available for rent. Prices range from €650 for a two- to four-berth cruiser for one week in the quieter off-season, and from €1,750 in the more expensive summer months. With most companies, you can also rent for three-night/four-day short breaks. Rates start from €450 for the fall and early spring periods, rising to €1,600 in summer. In addition to guided tours, Silver Line Cruisers offers boat rentals.

Boat Hires

Carrick Craft (Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim. 071/962–1777. www.carrickcraft.com.)

Emerald Star (Portumna, Co. Galway. 071/962–3711. www.emeraldstar.ie.)

Shannon Castle Line (Williamstown Harbor, Whitegate, Co. Clare. www.shannoncruisers.com.)

Silver Line Cruisers (Banagher, Co. Offaly. 057/915–1112. www.silverlinecruisers.com.)

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