The River Shannon is the longest river in Ireland. It runs for 224 miles, draining into the Shannon River Basin and is a geographical barrier that separates west Ireland from the south and east. There are fewer than thirty crossing points between Limerick and the village of Dowra to the north. The length and the geographical location make this river a favourite with those who enjoy kayaking and canoeing.
Many sections of the river, which winds its way through the lake-lands of Ireland, through eleven counties, are perfect for a gentle paddling excursion. Perhaps the best section though is the 80 km stretch between Shannonbridge, County Offaly and the two twin towns of Killaloe and Ballina on the Clare-Tipperary border. This is a blissfully peaceful way to explore this wildlife packed region. Winding your way through this bucolic idyll you will understand why this river has the reputation that it does.
By travelling along this waterway you will be journeying along a path that many before you have taken throughout history. The River Shannon is one of Ireland’s oldest routes – far more important, of course, when there were fewer roads to cross Ireland’s wild and rugged terrain. The river’s shores have been inhabited since prehistoric times and from the early Mediaeval period a variety of people have passed down this watery highway; from pilgrims to soldiers, from traders to raiders, all slices of life have been found on the Shannon River.
Today you will see many historic sites as you take one of the canoe trails along the river. There are castles, ancient ruins, tower houses, monasteries and churches, as well as remnants of the nineteenth-century industry found on this river and the lakes it passes through. It is hard to imagine, as you paddle along through a pristine natural environment, that this was once such a bustling thoroughfare.
The bird life on and around the Shannon river is one of the major enticements to visit this region. In relatively undisturbed habitats along the course of the river, for example around one of Ireland’s largest lakes, Lough Derg which is on the major canoeing route, you may see a coot, duck, moorhen, grebe, heron, gull, cormorant, bunting, mute swan or kingfisher going about their business. Summer visitors, for example warblers, swifts, swallows and house martins, are still found here in abundance.
A number of picturesque little towns and villages are to be found along the river, each of which is an access point for the river and a place to find accommodation for the night, or refreshment after the exercise of propelling yourself down stream.
If you have never been in a canoe or a kayak before then it is a good idea to book in for a proper lesson or two before embarking on a major trip. There are a number of operators offering both lessons and canoe hire in the area, which can be reached by plane to Shannon Airport, or by ferry and car or public transport. If you are looking for a safe place to take your first major canoeing adventure then the lovely Shannon River could be a wonderful holiday destination.