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Highlights Of The
Celtic Cruise

By Ann Dermody
Published: December 2012
Photo of Ireland

Banagher: The town has something of a rich literary history. Charlotte Brontë honeymooned here with her husband Arthur Bell Nicholls, who was raised at Cuba House in town. After her death, he returned there to live, bringing several mementoes of her, including some of her diaries that were found years later. Anthony Trollope, who became one of the most successful and prolific English novelists of the Victorian era, started writing his first novel while based at the post office in Banagher. James Pope-Hennessy, a well-established biographer and travel writer, spent much time in the town while researching his biography of Trollope, and Sir Jonah Barrington, a historical memoirist whose works were considered interesting, racy, and valuable, also called Banagher home for a while.

Clonfert: A short taxi ride inland between Banagher and Shannonbridge is Clonfert, a place of particular significance to boaters because it's home to a small cathedral dating back to the 6th century founded by St. Brendan the Navigator. When he died, about 584 A.D., his body was buried here.

Photo of a small cathedral dating back to the 6th century

Shannonbridge: Killeens Pub is something of an institution here, with live music most nights. It's a shop and a pub in the not-so-long-ago tradition of most pubs in Ireland. When the pub is busy, you'll likely be given stools to sit in the shop, as we were. We also scored a mug from the owner when the singer in our group entertained the crowd with a few solos.

The Old Fort in Shannonbridge, now a restaurant, dominates the small town on the west bank of the river, just south of the bridge. Built by the British in 1810 when they thought a Napoleonic invasion on the west coast of Ireland was imminent, it's part of a line of fortifications on the Shannon.

Shannonbridge Pottery on Main Street is a real treat for ceramic lovers. Don't miss their Swirly Twirly, Serene Sheep, Lunchtime, and Shamrock Brushes lines, the latter of which caught President Obama's eye when he visited Ireland last year. The prez was so taken with the design he bought a set for his mother-in-law.

Photo of window flowerbox and bench

Clonmacnoise: For ancient Irish history buffs, this is the pinnacle. For much of its antiquity, Ireland was known as the land of saints and scholars, and Clonmacnoise is a good example why. Though scoundrels could be added to that tagline, given the amount of times it was raided by the Irish themselves. Founded between 545 and 548 by St. Ciaran, Clonmacnoise's period of greatest growth came between the 8th and 12th centuries. It was attacked frequently during that time mostly by the Irish (at least 27 times), the Vikings (at least seven times), and the Anglo-Normans (at least six times). The early wooden buildings began to be replaced by more durable stone structures in the 9th century, and the original population of fewer than 10 men grew to an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 by the 11th century. Artisans associated with Clonmacnoise created some of the most beautiful and enduring artworks in metal and stone in Ireland, with the Clonmacnoise Crozier and the Cross of the Scriptures representing the apex of their efforts.

Athlone: The largest and most urban town on the Shannon, it's got a population of 40,000. Just south of the expansive Lough Ree, it's the main commercial town in the Irish midlands. Its castle, an Anglo-Norman structure that has had several upgrades since its 1210 inception, dominates the waterfront as you enter town. It has several good restaurants (we all loved Thyme, just a short walk from the marina) and a can't-miss pub in Sean's Bar. According to the Guinness Book of Records, Sean's Bar is the oldest in Europe. Located close to the castle, when renovations were made in 1970, the walls were found to be made of wattle and wicker, and some thousand-year-old coins were discovered in the structure. It also holds records of every bar owner since 900 A.D.

Photo of Tarmonbarry Lock and its lifting bridge

Tarmonbarry: Pull up alongside the docks outside Keenan's of Tarmonbarry, a small hotel and pub that offers good food and a nice setting in a cute village. The hotel is halfway between Tarmonbarry Lock and its lifting bridge. If you are pulling in, be sure to let the lockkeeper know to save him or her the quarter-mile cycle up to operate the bridge.

Roosky: About an hour further north of Tarmonbarry is Roosky, another nice quiet stop for the night. There are plenty of tie-ups along the riverbank here, just after the lock and all the way to the bridge. If it's summer and you're coming through late (the locks are open until 8.30 p.m. and it doesn't get dark in high summer in Ireland until after 10 p.m.), I'd advise taking the first space you see. That way, you can avoid turning around in front of the bridge and making your way back if there isn't another space.

Dromod: A little further on from Roosky is Dromod. This is a particularly nice little village that always does well in Ireland's national TidyTowns competition, where towns and villages try to out-paint and out-flower each other with colorful hanging baskets, flowerbeds, and window boxes that make their villages come alive. Harkin's Bistro and Cox's Steakhouse are both good stops for food, but be warned there aren't that many spots to tie up and Dromod is popular in summer. Get there early or be prepared to raft up to another boat and walk over their bow.

Jamestown: For something a little quieter and closer to Carrick-on-Shannon, you can tie up at Jamestown, a delightful old village with the requisite ancient arched stone bridge, or Drumsna, a harbor of equally as much stone.End of story marker