Banagher on the Shannon
The picturesque and riverside town of Banagher is centrally located right in the heart of Ireland and it’s ideal location on the River Shannon is the perfect destination for your cruising holiday. The meaning of Banagher comes from its Irish name “the place of the pointed rocks”. Although there is evidence of settlement in west Offaly for over 1,000 years, the earliest archaeological finds at Banagher date back to the Bronze Age. Since earliest times the crossing of the river here has been of great importance. During the Napoleonic Wars (1790-1815) a major invasion of Ireland by the French was feared so the authorities had good reason to believe the French would land on the west coast, and would then march across the midlands towards Dublin. The strongest and natural defence was the River Shannon. The most likely crossing points were between Athlone (Lough Ree) and Portumna (Lough Derg) so bridges and forts on this stretch of the river were defended. At Banagher a brick wall was inserted into Cromwell’s castle to enable it to carry a gun platform at roof level, less than 100 metres away; a Mortello tower was constructed and on the east bank a fortified barracks was constructed and equipped with 3 guns and further downstream, at Fort Eliza, a small five sided battery was also constructed with 4 guns.
Banagher was once the home to such literary greats as Anthony Trollope, Charlotte Bronte and also William Wilde, father of Oscar Wilde. The long street of Banagher is made up of later Georgian houses with the bridge located at the lower end of the town providing the link between Offaly and Galway.
There is an abundance of wildlife from the famous corncrake to the heron, with the flooded ‘callows’ or grassy meadows during the winter creating an ideal shelter for all kinds of waterfowl.
Banagher was a centre for the malting and brewing industries and for this reason Banagher was an important stop for the commercial barges travelling on the waterway from Dublin to Limerick at that time. The arrival of the railway in 1884 made Banagher’s cattle and horse fairs among the largest in Ireland.
The River Shannon
The River Shannon is a hidden gem waiting to be explored. The longest river in Ireland with a bustling navigation rises in County Cavan, with this majestic river then meandering gracefully through sloping mountain ranges, past ancient monastic settlements on a journey that takes some 500 km to the cosmopolitan city of Limerick and a further 95 km of estuary where it empties into the wild Atlantic Ocean. Moorings are readily available when you wish to spend time off the water enjoying the towns and villages – you will be spoilt for choice.
There are a range of activities and stunning scenery that you will encounter on your journey. Plenty of harbours and marinas are available on the Shannon, all within walking distance to the local towns, offering fine local food, shops for your provisions, heritage trails, castles, water sports, playgrounds to keep the kids amused and of course the wonderful Irish pubs with Irish music offering a great chance to meet the locals and enjoy the famous Irish culture. Some of the finest cuisine establishments in the region are dotted along the waterway with many community festivals and events held during the year. Wonderful looped walks can be enjoyed by all the family from bike trails, canoe safaris, paddle boarding, wakeboarding to waterskiing. The famous Lough Key with fantastic walks and activities and the idyllic Lough Allen is worth exploring and for the adventure junky there are plenty of activity centres to keep the adrenaline pumping. There are wonderful opportunities for both golfing and fishing. As you venture out on the Shannon you will discover many interesting sights from the 16 arch bridge at Shannonbridge, to the famous World Heritage Site of Clonmacnoise, to the wonderful recently restored Athlone Castle – these are just a sample of the rich and varied history to be found as you explore the Shannon and its environs.
The Shannon-Erne Waterway
The Shannon-Erne Waterway is 63 km of river, lake and canals and re-opened in 1994. It runs between Leitrim village and just beyond Belturbet and creates the links between the two great waterways in Ireland, the Shannon Navigation and the Erne System. The Shannon-Erne Waterway is a tranquil stretch of waterway providing access to countryside villages with plenty of mooring facilities and public marinas dotted along the way. An array of activities are available, with fishing, walking and cycling trails adjacent to the waterway, mountains to explore and wildlife in abundance.
The Erne System
The majestic River Erne, navigable from Belleek in County Fermanagh to Belturbet in County Cavan, is made up of many lakes and tributaries creating attractive and varied landscape together with historical treasures. With many of its moorings on islands dotted on the waterway there are plenty of places to escape and enjoy the tranquil waters. Plenty of entertainment and interesting sites are readily accessible, from the monastic round tower at Devenish Island to Enniskillen’s medieval castle on the edge of its island banks. With the beautiful mountain scenery of Lower Lough Erne and the lively towns and villages that are located along your route, you will find plenty to keep you entertained, from walking, cycling, climbing mountains, water skiing, windsurfing, to exploring castles, museums, or shopping for local crafts – wherever you go you will be spoilt for choice.
The Grand Canal
This canal was built in the early 19th century with its 200km stretching across the country from Dublin to the Shannon (East to West). The historic horse drawn barges would have travelled this waterway and it was essential for industry back in earlier times. The opening of the canal was an enormous challenge as the main proportion of the canal was built through bogland. In 1804 the first boat travelled the entire canal from Shannon Harbour in Offaly to Dublin. Today the canal is used by many boaters cruising at a leisurely pace and exploring the hidden and rural spots. It’s a very relaxing journey taking in the Irish landscape, full of shallow marshes, alive with birds, wildlife and rural countryside. There is also a wonderful opportunity to explore and visit the famous heritage and museum centre of ‘Tullamore Dew’ and to sample its world-renowned whiskey.
The Royal Canal
After extensive restoration work the Royal Canal was re-opened to navigation in 2010, with the 146 km canal journey from the River Liffey in Dublin to the Shannon passing through 46 working locks. Just like other Irish waterways, the canal passes through some picturesque countryside with the tow path running alongside the canal now cleared and promoted as the Royal Canal Way. The Royal Canal is steeped in history with bridges dating back over 200 years and buildings in Abbeyshrule can be traced back to 1200 AD. Conditions are excellent for the angling enthusiasts, with roach proving to be one of the most popular fish along with pike and bream.