By Isabel Conway
Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands I recently enjoyed on a meandering Shannon cruise may have remained on that bucket list were it not for the Coronavirus pandemic when our 2020 holidays encompassed one word: STAYCATION.
To a landlubber, the prospect of reversing a 50 ft long cabin cruiser into a slip, never mind ease her into one of the locks that lay ahead were enough to made me break into a cold sweat on arrival at https://www.leboat Le Boat Emerald Star marina in Carrick on Shannon, Co Leitrim.
I had visualized a modest low ceilinged craft, not this fine big vessel – the Shannon version of Princess of the Sea – with three roomy comfortable bedrooms, each with its own WC and shower facilities, a fourth small separate sleeping cabin and a sundeck on top, large enough to host a party of twenty or more in happy COVID free times.
The eight berth vessel had an open plan dining/chill out salon and a fully equipped kitchen. As our crew numbered only three aboard we had no difficulty losing one another throughout the voyage.
Checking in on the Le Boat marina on a drizzling late afternoon in August first we signed that all important damage waiver dotted line (imagine the damage the uninitiated can inflict) before going in search of our home for the next four nights. “The Navigational Guide to the Shannon” – a waterway bible charting the river with easily followed drawings of harbours and jetties – is sensibly loaned out. Routes correspond to the river markers, and essential information- “remember to keep red buoys to the left and green on the right upstream and downstream green to the left” with useful tips for nearby attractions, restaurants etc., makes it a vital survival manual for the novice boater.
Our unanimously elected captain (son Alan) with much experience on super large yachts around the Mediterranean appeared to impress Le Boat’s training guru Marcus Bradshaw who had hopped aboard to show us the ropes. Under a steely sky and fast gathering clouds we took a short run up to Carrick bridge and afterwards Alan reversed Shannon Star ‘ Annalee’ into our berth with the ease of a shopper parking their supermarket trolley. Luckily his mother was not at the helm though I did take over the wheel once we steamed across wide expanses of lake far removed from any potential obstacles in the days which followed.
Some cruisers, including first timers, set out to conquer the Shannon, notching up daunting distances but in doing so they often miss the quaint quays and marinas that are part of its charm, explained Marcus. Others enjoy the journey and scenery, drifting along and going where the river takes them.
We decided that a little of both suited us best – on our first morning upstream gently navigating the sparkling water up to stunning Lough Key and beyond, then a meander south to historic Dromod and the well- known village of Roosky, returning for our last night aboard back to home base in Carrick.
At the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning, after a full Irish breakfast I had rustled up from the galley, we headed north towards our first port of call at Cootehall, Co Roscommon, a watery sun gathering welcome strength as the day went on.
It’s a tranquil spot with a good sized marina a few flower bedecked houseboat barges parked on the quayside. Due to the COVID pandemic and “little or no foreigners on the water, 98 per cent of cruisers this year have been Irish staycation boaters. Le Boat Emerald Star’s helpful manager in Carrick on Shannon John Beirne said “it’s great to see Irish people having a first flavour of the Shannon; we will get lots of repeat business now that they have tasted river cruising; the feedback has been fantastic and many told us they will return next year, they enjoyed it so much”.
Our three-day cruise had many standout moments; a rarely seen blue and orange kingfisher who flitted from the undergrowth near the Boyle river, milk chocolate brown cattle and black faced sheep oblivious of river traffic who grazed near the water’s edge, and starlings gathering at dusk above the sleepy riverbank.
Socially distanced wine and beer shared on our respective decks at twilight berthed in picturesque Dromod were memories to cherish. So was Lough Key Castle when dramatically framed by thunder clouds as well as the memory of that excellent crispy confit of duck enjoyed at friendly Marina Hotel in Leitrim village where we ate upstairs in splendid isolation due to the popularity of its downstairs yacht inspired restaurant,.
For more information about Emerald Star visit www.emeraldstar.ie or call 071 962 7633
A seven-night self-catered boating holiday on board the Shannon Star sleeping up to 8 on the River Shannon, starting and ending at Emerald Star’s Carrick base, arriving September 2020 is priced from €1,669 per boat,( €208.62 pp.) My four-night self-catered break on Annalee Star which sleeps 8 starting and ending at Emerald Star’s Carrick base in August 2020 priced from €1,319 per boat (€164.88 pp. sharing). No boating license nor previous experience required. Price includes renting the boat and its equipment, a galley (kitchen) with all the necessary utensils and appliances, towels and linen for all passengers, a boat handling demo, technical support, on-board cruising information and locks fee. The cruiser season on the Shannon runs from March-October