Silenced by Sunsets cruising the River Shannon in Ireland
The experience of cruising The River Shannon and Erne Waterways in Ireland
Leaving the hustle and bustle of Dublin City life behind—with safety checks completed and map of The River Shannon /Erne Waterways in hand, we set off on a weekend cruising adventure. We were novices, my husband Patrick and I, but it didn’t matter. The canals of these waterways, which were re-opened in 1994, were updated for beginners like us. The electro-hydraulic locks that we’d meet along our journey were accessible by a smart card. Meaning, there was little room for error.
We set off from our base of Ballinamore Marina in Leitrim County, and headed towards Boyle in Roscommon County. Keeping our speed to a minimum in the effort to cause little or no wash behind us. Our mission was to emulate the name of our cruiser ‘Tranquility’ by having respect for the canal and its inhabitants.
Our cruiser had everything for us to enjoy our three-night weekend away. From a cozy lounge area to a comfortable bed. The kitchenette was stocked with the provisions we brought with us. Tea, coffee, hot showers, and even a hot water bottle were all readily available. But my first choice was to sit up top next to Patrick who’d taken the wheel. To dress in the captain’s hat that was on-board was entirely optional, but we both took turns, for photo memories sake.
Sitting there watching the countryside go by with the warmth of the sun on my face and the breeze in my hair, I could feel the city stresses seep away. I imagined them roll of the boat and into the waters below us. Unpacking our picnic basket laden with treats fit for a five-star experience was a pleasure. Their display on a picnic blanket looked as elegant as a still-life composition. But that didn’t last long as we sipped and nibbled our way through them.
We got a stride going when it came to the locks. Patrick in charge of the steering, and me in control of the automated gates. It was Spring when we cruised, April to be more precise, and although we expected rain showers that come this time of year, we thankfully escaped them.
Honking our boats horn as we went under the old stone bridges brought us closer to our first stop, the village of Keshcarrigan. Here we moored for the night. But before retiring we took ourselves to a pub called Gertie’s. Getting in and out before the Friday night crowd, we enjoyed a pint of Guinness, a hot dinner and a game of pool. Like many pubs that sell provisions for those who use the canal, once spotted, I couldn’t pass the opportunity of purchasing a packet of Boxty. It’s a traditional potato pancake only available in these neck of the woods, and with a Monaghan born dad, something that always brings back Irish childhood memories.
As the sun set that night, we watched it cast shadows on the water. The feeling of achievement and excitement filled us for the days ahead. We slept soundly. Saturday morning was greeted with an eagerness to get going and our aim was to cruise to Lough Key and moor at the town of Boyle in Roscommon. Stopping off along the way to taste the ‘best pint in Leitrim’ was compulsory. And, so we stopped at The Sheemore Inn in Kilclare before venturing on.
The scenery that you meet along The River Shannon /Erne Waterways is breathtaking. The beauty in the peacefulness envelops you. The experiences of the scenery that surrounds you can’t be achieved on land. That stillness can’t be felt. The 360-degree views of the horizon of water and land and sky.
Passing by Leitrim Village we left the Erne Waterways and joined The River Shannon before making our way up the River Boyle to Lough Key. Clarendon Lock, the gateway to Lough Key was the only lock we met that was manual, but it was manned. And so we passed through as gracefully as the river and ‘Tranquility’ would allow.
Over three miles in length with over thirty wooded Islands; Lough Key offered us a vastness of waters we hadn’t experienced on our adventure. Passing Bullock Island, the cows dotted in the fields beyond it probably had no idea of their namesake. The sun was saying farewell and the chill of spring crept in as the clock ticked towards 7.30pm.
We moored at Boyle Harbour and made our way into Boyle Town. Too late to take in the sites of the old Abbey and Clock Tower, but in perfect time to enjoy dinner, a dance, and a nightcap before settling down for the night on-board our floating weekend home.
Sunday morning came, and with it, the knowledge that this was our last full day and night on the water. We were to return to where we had begun. When we travel we never liked to backtrack, always finding a new route to explore, to see and experience other aspects of the journey. However, this was different. We were happy to return to the waters we had so recently cruised. And like a good book, there were elements we’d missed the first time around, so we kept on reading the water and skyline that passed by.
It was as if we were honored with a gift for appreciating the beauty around us. On Sunday evening, our last night on-board Tranquility, a little past 8.30pm, we were treated to one of the most memorable sunsets I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing.
Each evening the sunsets had been magical due to the ambiance surrounding us, but on this evening, it was unforgettable! The gold and blood orange colors that seeped across the sky were picture perfect. The contrast of the blackness of the horizon…and the reflection—it was if the water had turned to liquid gold. That night we were silenced by the sunset on The River Shannon.
Mooring at our old haunt at Keshcarrigan, we stayed for the night on-board our boat, without venturing out. We wanted to make the most of the peace and quiet, and bottle it up for later use. Sleeping soundly and rising early was the plan that was kept and we cruised our way back to Ballinamore by noon the next day.
DETAILS ABOUT CRUISING THE RIVER SHANNON
There are 16 locks and 31 bridges along the 38 miles of waterways between Leitrim Village and Belturbet Town in Cavan County. It is estimated to take 13 hours in total to travel its length. However, there’s no need to rush on the water unless time is on your side, don’t try to cover too much distance. Also, don’t forget the lock opening and closing times. For us, it was 9am to 8pm. The experience is about peacefulness. Visit for a day, a night, a week or month. Soak in the fresh air, the stillness and hopefully be silenced by the sunsets. Click here for River Shannon boat rentals.