Forty Shades of Fun in Ireland
By Lori Young, Barge Lady Sales Manager
Lori Young, our well-traveled Sales Manager, was delighted to visit Shannon Princess in July, 2014. She came back raving about the warmth of the Irish people and the high quality operation of the Shannon Princess, owned by our old friends Captain Ruairi Gibbons and Chef Olivia Power. Here is her experience.
My Ireland journey on the Shannon Princess began with a warm welcome from Captain Ruairi at the pickup hotel in central Dublin, the Brooks Hotel. The Brooks Hotel offers comfortable rooms, efficient front desk service, helpful concierge, and a very good restaurant and bar. The hotel is perfectly situated on a quiet street yet near to everything!
Shannon Princess was moored in Killaloe, the most southerly town on the route, approximately a 2.5 hour drive from Dublin. As we approach the parking lot in the marina, two smartly dressed women welcome us, it is Cyann and Pavletta, our adorable hostesses. A champagne welcome on board with Ruairi and his wife, Chef Olivia.
After a safety briefing and introduction to the week ahead, there was time to unpack and get familiar with our floating home. Cabins are smartly appointed and the space is well-thought out. There’s an armoire with hanging space and shelves, night tables with drawers and a small writing desk for all your tech gear. The bathroom has more storage than needed and even a hamper is provided! Cabin amenities include; fluffy towels and robes, slippers, crisp duvets, dryers, curling irons, regional guide book and binoculars, flashlight, and so much more! If you think you’ve forgotten something at home, no worry at all, only your clothes and toothbrush are needed on Shannon Princess!
Our welcome dinner was a feast for the senses and each meal thereafter, chef Olivia just kept excelling – we all marveled at her talent, TOP CHEF extraordinaire! Take a tour of Olivia’s menus and enjoy the food photos below!
While most tourists visit Ireland and drive the periphery, this cruise affords the opportunity to go inland on a series of “Loughs” or lakes. The lakes are connected by rivers and easy enough for mariners to traverse from one to the next. The landscape is an attractive blend of rolling hillsides, woodlands and farmland. Fun fact: Ireland has 1.5 million more cows than people! Our first mooring, Killaloe, lies at the southern end of Lough Derg. Note to self: head out after dinner and walk to the lively pubs in the village!
MONDAY commenced with a morning cruise, we started our slow meander north to Mount Shannon, about mid-way on the lake. Swans are plentiful and all had a brood, they were precious and picture perfect! In fact, if birding is a pastime, these waterways will not disappoint, no wonder each cabin is supplied with a pair of binoculars! Mount Shannon is a quaint village with a beautiful park to stroll in at the marina. Note to self: head out after dinner and walk to the pubs in the village!
This afternoon our guided tour was to “Craggaunowen, The Living Past”, a reenactment of a traditional Bronze Age Settlement, portraying everyday life of Pre-historic and early Christian Eras. Nestled within beautiful pine forest the exhibition was very well-done. I had no idea so many artifacts have been preserved in the many bogs throughout Ireland and many have only recently been excavated. On the way back to the barge we made a brief stop at a local weavers studio, McKernan Woollen Mills. We had an intimate tour of the looms and the studio provided by the owner, Eugene McKernan. Eugene is currently working on the most spectacular scarfs for his upcoming winter orders through the National Geographic catalog. We also had a chance to visit their small and exclusive retail shop. hint; the scarfs in the seconds basket were perfect, discontinued patterns of wonderful quality!!
TUESDAY morning we cruised to the top of Lough Derg to Terryglass. After three tranquil hours on the water it was time to set off on foot and stretch our sea legs, we headed up the hill into the village to have lunch ashore at The Derg Inn, a traditional pub. I ordered my first Irish pub version of Fish and Chips – it was fresh, simple and scrumptious! note to self; head out after dinner and walk back to the pubs in this village!
Now I was ready for our drive to Leap Castle, reputed to be the most haunted castle in Ireland – the crew, including 14 year old Ross, Olivia and Ruairi’s son who was on summer holiday and on board with us this week, forewarned me to take heaps of photos as some guests have had mysterious orbs appear. Well, I took a ton of photos, thank goodness for digital cameras, but no orbs. I think you need to bring an offering of Guinness and a dram of whiskey to stir them! Ruairi is sure to let his guests know in advance not to expect a fancy or refined visit of Leap Castle and he was right! The castle is mostly in ruin but its owner, Sean Ryan is very much alive and a colorful character in his own right. Sean captivates his audience with ghostly tales and the gruesome history of the O’Carroll clan, a brutal bunch and eventually put on a boat to America by the British. Sean delighted us with his Irish Tin Whistle, the visit is really such a treat!
WEDNESDAY Ruairi switched our routine and we headed off in the bus after breakfast to Portumna Castle. This castle plays an important role in our cruise as Olivia’s delicious and creative cooking can be attributed to the herbs from the Kitchen Garden here. This property is dated from the early 1600’s and felt modern with geometrically laid out ’ladies gardens’ in the front and a back lawn that led down to the lake. The Irish Government has done a wonderful exhibition here, you can see from the detailed accounts of its history that the Burgo Family who held residence for over 200 years had great wealth. The town of Portumna has a significant trade history as it’s the crossing point between Lough Derg and the Shannon River, and the counties of Galway and Tipperary.
Back in the bus and off we went to the port city of Galway. Wow! Tourist abound as do the young people from the university – Galway was so alive as compared to the sleepy villages we had been mooring near, time this afternoon to browse on your own. Lunch ashore with Ruairi at an authentic Guinness and Oyster bar, try a pint of Porterhouse Stout! Tip: the antiques shops are not to be missed – the prices are very good and the selections of housewares in silver were abundant, a little bit of heaven! Our day was long today but a hot pot of tea or cocktails were waiting on board and we cruised the remainder of the late afternoon and early evening. Catching the changing colors of the landscape on the Shannon River as the sun began to wane was just exquisite! We moored this evening along the river in the quiet village marina of Banagher. Note to self: pubs within walking distance tonight for a pint of Smithwick’s!
THURSDAY was a big cruise day as we followed the river north. Enroute we stopped dockside at Clonmacnoise, a 6th Century Monastic site that is situated on an esker ridge overlooking the bog. In earlier times this was the crossroad for communication, religious learning, trade and politics. There are still pilgrimages that take place to this well-preserved site. The government has really outdone itself here and this tour should not be missed. To access the site from the docks and to maintain its authenticity one still needs to walk through the cow pasture!
Begin your tour here with the short movie, it will help you to understand this very special place. Wander through the graveyard, marvel at the towers, and be sure to not miss the whispering wall (it really works!), a means of communication to avoid consumption.
Back on board we make our way through the “callows” and to Athlone, slipping into the large lock in the city center. A bustling town with its castle standing guard over the harbor. Time to walk about on your own, enjoy a pub, shop, visit the castle or the art museum. Some of the guests on my cruise asked Ruairi to arrange a gillie for the afternoon to go fishing, they had a marvelous expedition! Remember Olivia will have dinner prepared on board, so don’t be late! Many options to hit the pubs tonight!
FRIDAY we transitioned from the Shannon River into Lough Ree passing what seemed like hundreds of tiny uninhabited islands. Eventually we arrive to our final mooring in Glasson, but not before a water view tour of the stunning Glasson Country Club! Wow, were those greens green! After lunch we set off for Kilbeggan Distillery because you can’t come all this way and not sample the whiskey. Killbeggan dates from 1757 and is still manufacturing today. We enjoyed a private tour and tasting.
I asked Ruairi if we could stop in Glasson on the way back to the Shannon Princess which he happily accommodated, it’s such a lovely village and while my peers popped into a pub for Irish coffees with Ruairi, I visited the local art gallery, teeming with top quality local pottery, soaps, art, and textiles. Tonight was our final dinner which Captain Ruairi has joined us for. This was an extravaganza of the senses – once again Olivia has shone, every element of the meal was sheer perfection. Ruairi is a fine story-teller in his own rights and our hostesses made us all feel so special this final night with their own toast to our well-being!
SATURDAY was a sad farewell but I know I will return to the Shannon Valley, it is rich in culture and diverse. It was a memorable week filled with laughter and learning and the hospitality of my hosts can’t be beat, they were extraordinary from start to finish. On return to Dublin, Captain Ruairi will see you to your next destination.
I returned to the Brooks Hotel to soak in some more of Dublin. You simply must embark on purchasing a ticket for Hop-On Hop-Off tour bus. First, the drivers are a treat, they are funny and full of charm and wit – I had the good fortune to enjoy a sunny day with stunning blue skies and took advantage of the top deck, what an fantastic birds eye view of this ancient city! This is without a doubt the way to begin your stay in Dublin and get a lay of the land. A ticket is good for 2 days and you will use it!
First do the entire route, it takes about an hour and a half. Then simply hop-on hop-off. I visited Trinity College since seeing the Book of Kells was high on my list. Next I was off to St. Patrick’s and Christ Church. Back on the bus I made my way to the National Museum, I had a hankering to delve into some Viking history and view their display of gold, including the Ardgh Chalice and the Tara Brooch. The docents there are marvelous and at the ready to take you underarm and personalize your visit. From the museum it’s a short walk to Merrion Square or St. Stephen’s Green, there is ample street art and so much talent! Of course, the rooftop views and the Guinness Tour are always a hit (but there are entry lines, so plan for the extra time).
While I passed on Temple Bar in the evening, during the day I found it vibrant. The performance art is incredible! What talent these tricky masters have at their craft, one after the other I was convinced were statues. The musicians offer all types of genres and the vibe was safe and happy! Eateries are everywhere and you can have anything you fancy. I opted to stick with everything Irish and dined at the Hairy Lemon, a pub steps from the Hotel Brooks. It did not disappoint but it could not come close to my fabulous memories of Olivia’s cuisine all week on Shannon Princess.
I found the people of Ireland to be genuine, warm and welcoming. If they see you standing on the street with a quizzical look on your face, they not only ask if they can help, they take you to your destination and then go about their business. They want to know where you’re from, where you’re visiting, and what you think! They are interested and interesting! Shannon Princess and both your time pre- and post cruise will delight your travel senses, welcome on board and bon voyage!