Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cruising in Ireland on the Shannon Waterway

More at Ease: Second Time in Europe
By Amy Aldrich


In April, 2008, my husband and I went back to Europe for our second trip, this time in Ireland on the SHANNON PRINCESS. Although Ireland seemed to have a different "feel" than Germany, we were more at ease and knew what to expect. We arrived on Saturday in Dublin and walked the town - which felt lively and full of raw culture with street performers and local crowds. It seemed a melting pot of different tourists and accents, and at the same time romantic with the open horse carriage rides available. I would definitely recommend at least a day in Dublin to get a sense of Irish culture.


Maybe because I have Irish ancestry and was born on St. Patrick's Day, I felt immediately at home and somehow more connected to this beautiful country. And, I LOVE the Irish accent!

Day One - Sunday
After a lunch of Irish lazagna and chips at what seemed to me to be the epitome of an Irish pub (and into which people began piling in to watch a soccer game on TV), we were met at the charming Aberdeen Lodge and transferred by Captain Ruairi Gibbons himself to SHANNON PRINCESS. Awaiting was our crew with a champagne toast to commemorate their first cruise of the 2008 Season! We dined while cruising the Inner Lakes of Rough Lee and onward to Athlone.


Athlone boasts a bar which claims to be Ireland's oldest and the contrast of a newly-built Raddison Hotel behind the 16th Century Shannon Bridge! Mooring here gave time for both walking the town and visiting the pubs as well as unpacking and getting to know our fellow passengers who would turn into friends by trip's end.


Day Two - Monday
A morning cruise heading south through Athlone Lock, lead us on our first excursion: Clonmacnoise, the remains of a famed 6th Century Christian settlement, included ruins of a castle, a monastery, chapels and graveyards.

Absorbing the history of this breathtaking landscape, and the numerous family members to this day being buried in the same grave, made us appreciate the struggles of the Irish people. Lunch aboard and an afternoon cruise brought us to our first castle, Birr Castle which is still occupied by ancestors of the original owners. We toured the 17th Century gardens and many acres inhabiting eye-catching waterfalls and the oldest telescope in the world. On return to the barge, we set sail for a late afternoon and dinner cruise though our second lock into Lough Derg and our mooring at Terryglass.


Day Three - Tuesday



This morning’s excursion began with a bus ride through enchanting countryside to Leap Castle, Ireland’s most haunted castle. The owner Sean Ryan, who played a few tunes on the Irish whistle, told us the history of the castle and the spirits that supposedly inhabit it. He let us tour the castle and the grounds which he is still in the process of rehabbing. We had the opportunity to meet his carpenter who looked like someone straight out of a 16th Century book with what looked like authentic Amish-style clothing. (We wondered what kind of tools he used!)

Lunch was off the barge today at the informal Derg Inn, where a burger and chips were in order accompanied by a Guiness or a nice glass of wine. We returned to Shannon Princess moored across from a gorgeous, green hillside, over which a rainbow appeared. It was amazing to see the entire horizon completely no matter which way you faced. It really made for some great photos.We were delightfully surprised this evening after dinner by a musical group who played traditional Irish music on a banjo, keyboard and tin whistle. They also sang a few ditties on request. A couple on board were celebrating their wedding anniversary and also her birthday which made it much more special for all of us!



Day Four - Wednesday
Cruising after breakfast today allowed us to visit on deck with other guests or, as some chose, time in the wheelhouse with the Captain. Captain Ruari and his crew - including his wife, Chef Olivia and sister-in-law, maitre'd Marina - were all knowledgeable about the areas through which we cruised. They all had a modesty about them and you could tell how much pride they take in the barge and how much it means to them as a family. After lunch, we departed for a visit to the Craggaunowen Project, an interesting Celtic Bronz Age settlement reconstructed. We toured an underground hut and were shown a boat about which it was claimed carried the true discoverers to America many years before Columbus!
Back on board we were welcomed by authentic Irish Creme Coffees which would become my dessert drink with dinners to follow.

Day Five - Thursday
After a leisurely breakfast cruise, Ruairi drove us through countryside once inhabited by sufferers of the famous Potato Famine. He gave us some history. People affected by the famine were housed and put to work - even the children - constructing the amazing stone walls which still extend as far as the eye could see. Something in me felt connected with possible ancestors being affected by this famine.


Our destination of Galway City changed the tone considerably, with all the lively shops and pubs, including our lunch spot into which we were accompanied by Captain Ruari. It was interesting to hear him talk about his many years as Captain, as well as the original SHANNON PRINCESS and the different clientele he has met.

We decided to spend about an hour after lunch exploring Galway City on our own. It was surprising to see the palm trees in the area, which Ruari informed us grow here due to Galway being so close to the Atlantic ocean.

We cruised the rest of the afternoon on the most beautiful part of the route as the land was closest on both sides, making it feel like a canal in France: only greener! This was the best weather we had all week and all of our companions enjoyed the top deck...the crew even held dinner for us as it was obvious we were having such a great time!


Day Six - Friday
Our last day brought us back on our route to Quigley’s Marina where we started. After lunch on board, we were again driven by our wonderful Captain to an interesting piece of history going back to 148 BC at the “Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre” which interprets an Iron Age bog road - excavated and preserved by a group at Dublin College in the 1980’s. The building in which we stood was built around the road itself, and looked down upon it from above.


We were honored to have Captain Ruari sit with us for dinner on our last evening on SHANNON PRINCESS, and as unassuming as his family is, they all came out tonight and shared more memories. It was truly a pleasure to be with this crew on their first cruise of the 2008 Season - I hope to have the opportunity to go back again!

Day Seven - Saturday
Back to Dublin
After a lovely breakfast, we made our way to the van which would now be driving us back to Dublin. As we said goodbye, we exchanged information with our new friends and thanked Ruari and his crew for a wonderful time aboard the SHANNON PRINCESS. Spending one more night in Dublin before flying home allowed us to walk the Temple Bar again and take in a few Guiness pints before turning in. We reminisced and agreed that our second trip to Europe was just as wonderful as our first!

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