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  • Writer's pictureLinda De Angelis

A river escapade in the Emerald Isle’s Heartland ~ Part 1

“‘Tis the Shannon’s brightly glancing stream, brightly gleaming, silent in the morning beam. Oh! The sight entrancing. Thus return from travels long, years of exile, years of pain to see Old Shannon’s face again, o’er the waters glancing.” This was the Irish poem that was recited to John F Kennedy during his visit to Ireland in 1963 by the then President Eamon de Valera. JFK was so impressed this poem & the Shannon River that he incorporated the words in his final speech before departing Ireland. To echo his reply from his 1963 speech; with this blog I would like to “take you back & see old Shannon’s face again”.

Unsplashed image by K Mitch Hodge

Our adventure starts at the picturesque town of Portumna in the Heartland of the legendary Emerald Isle. The township is on the shimmering sapphire water of the Shannon River & at the junction of Lough Derg; a freshwater lake on the Shannon River basin. This is where we picked up our beautiful Le Boat private charter for our Shannon River escapade.


This Heartland has featured throughout Ireland’s history. Ancient Celtic mythology says Shannon was the daughter of the God of the Sea. The Shannon River is known locally as “Abhaimn na Sionainn” or the “possessor of wisdom”. The combination of two words “sion’ meaning wise & “abhainn” meaning river. So let us discover what treasure this wise river has in store for us!


Seven treasures of the Shannon River in the Heartland of the Emerald Isle


Portumna


Portumna is home of the Portumna Castle on the banks of the Shannon River, with the dramatic backdrop of the Portumna Forest Park. Portumna is one of Galway's most attractive towns. The historic treasure of Portumna Castle was built by the 4th Earl of Clanricarde; it was the power base for centuries for the de Burgo family. It is a unique example of the transitional Irish architecture of the early 1600s, with elements of medieval & Renaissance styles, typical of the eras the castle fortress was built in. Both King James I & Queen Elizabeth I of England have visited this castle. Unfortunately, in 1862 there was a massive fire that left the castle as a roofless shell. It was not until the 1960s that restoration work began to bring it back from ruin. Thankfully restoration works continue to this day. Portumna Castle is protected and maintained by the highly skilled and experienced staff from the Office of Public Works Heritage services, whose job is to look after National and Historic sites and monuments in Ireland. We were astonished at the quality and dedication of the restoration. They do this through researching the old techniques and working out where materials came from, such as the restoration of windows that would have been made from French glass.


The kitchen gardens were also beautiful to visit. Situated in a walled area next to the castle’s forecourt, with formal paths and garden beds. It was delightful to see the variety of plants, including crab apples, chives, cacao beans, sweet peas, dahlias and roses.


Lough Derg

The sparkling sapphire water of this pristine lake has three counties bordering its lakeshores; Galway, Clare & Tipperary. The picturesque villages are delightfully dotted along the lakes’ foreshore; like an artist has painted the houses into the landscape around the embankments of the lake, making for an indelible encounter with Shannon’s enchanted inland sea.


All along the river, herds of cattle graze on the banks of the Lough Derg & River Shannon, looking like an idyllic advertisement for Irish premium butter. It is the beta carotene found in this freshest of grass found on the Shannon River that makes Irish butter so golden and delicious. Bird life also thrives on the Shannon River, including families of wild Mute & Whooper Swans, Herons, Cormorants, Kingfishers, Wigeons and Golden Plovers. Fish life is prolific in the pristine waters of the Shannon River, including Common Bream, Brown Trout, Tench, European Perch & Norther Pike.


Athlone

Athlone is in county Westmeath & is the capital of the Midlands. It is a charming town where the locals gave us a warm welcome with that famous Irish hospitality, making us feel very at home! The Athlone Castle was originally built by Bishop John de Gray of Norwich for King John. It was designed to defend the crossing point of the Athlone River. It is an impressive place to explore & we can only imagine that in another time in history, as a working fortress castle, it would have been a formidable place to visit! The fortress castle was built to defend the island against enemy attacks. Alas, the castle was partly destroyed by a lightning strike in 1967. These days it is a much more serene place than its former past. There are gorgeous town views from the castle & the landscapes looking over the Shannon River are breathtakingly beautiful. We found a lovely courtyard at the castle; it was a great place to stop to ponder on the history & legends of this Hidden Heartland of the Emerald Isle.

Unsplashed image of Athone by Akash Bhattacharya


Clonmacnoise

Clonmacnoise is a fascinating fragment of the past, the great monastery seems to be lost in nature & was once the most famous of the Emerald Isle before being destroyed by Athlone. Founded in the 6th century by Saint Ciaran, a young man from County Roscommon, who created this place as a great centre of religion & learning. It was visited by many of the ancient scholars. The monastery was associated with Kings of Connacht till the 9th century. This place was also where many historical manuscripts were written, including the 11th century Annals of Tighernach & the 12th century Book of Dun Cow & the 9th century Cross of the Scriptures. Clonmacnoise flourished until the Elizabethan time when the English garrison Athlone plundered the Cathedral. The cavalry of soldiers destroyed the altars & defaced any ornaments that they did not take. It is humbling to discover history through legends & the hauntingly beautiful ancient ruins; including the monuments of Saint Ciaran’s old monastery, Clonmacnoise Cathedral, Temple Doolin, Temple Hurpan & Temple Melaghlin. The surrounding landscapes are just as majestic.


Kilalore

Killaloe and Ballina are two small towns in east County Clare with an ancient bridge covered in wildflowers linking the towns over the Shannon River. By the bridge is a decommissioned lock house, now used as the library and heritage centre. The immaculate historic cobblestone streets are gorgeous and peaceful these days. However, I believe, if these village walls could talk, I am sure there would many fascinating tales to tell! One such story is depicted on some modern street art on one of the village walls. It is a painting telling the story of the original track of the Ville Hill and Ballina rail line which opened in 1864 after the women of Ballina protested against losing their right of way to the river by laying themselves across the line to stop the train. It finally resulted in the bridge being built; this was before the advent of the suffragette movement.


In the evening twilight, the serene Shannon River, bridge & river front looked so magical all lit up. We found the Boruma Gastro Bar right near the bridge with fabulous food, wine, ale and a view from the rooftop bar. One of the patrons of the pub told me of the legend of Brian Boru, born in 941, near Killaloe who was considered to be the greatest of the Irish High Kings.


In the morning, the riverbanks magically light up with the dawn sunlight. I found an enchanting track with fragrant flowers alive with pollen, birds and insects. I imagine this track in the ancient past could have been used by the wise and powerful to escape into the hills and was also used by the healers and humble to forage for medicinal plants! Interestingly, our Tudor side of the family came from this region. I wonder if some ancient ancestor spirit was with me on this part of the journey! I certainly did feel a spirit of lightness and strength as I was magically drawn to this bright, fragrant garden walk following the river. My feeling is there would have been many adventures, escapes and legends along this path.


Banagher


Banagher is steeped in history. We discovered this peaceful & utterly charming town that seemed to be hiding many treasures of the past, including countless fortifications around the town which date back to the 14th century; the Crank House built in 1760, a two storey, six bay Georgian townhouse with bow front & superb limestone doorways. The long sloping street in Banagher is lined with late-Georgian houses running up to the river where a bridge links Offaly with Galway. Banagher is also the home of the pretty Saint-Paul's Church built in 474 AD. It is also where the old Castle Clonony, built in the late 1400s is to be found. A tale tells that Henry the VIII’s second wife Anne Boleyn was born here, however history says that this legend is not true; however it is well documented that when Queen Anne Boleyn fell out of favour with Henry VIII part of her family fled to this castle; so what do we believe, the history books or the legendary tale?


Terryglass

Terryglass is a picturesque & welcoming village. It’s a great place to rest & revive with the warm hospitality of the locals. Terryglass was originally a 6th century monastic settlement, a few of these historic remnants remain to this day. Legend has it that baptisms were held in Saint Augh’s Eye Well by Saint Patrick when he came upon Terryglass. Another legend say Saint Columba’s Headache Well is also in Terryglass, getting its name from Columba, as it is claimed to have powers of helping to cure migraines & headaches.


What will you think about the legends we uncovered on our escapade of Heartland of the Emerald Isle on the wise river of Shannon? Do you believe the legends to be true or tall tales? Well, we went to “Paddy’s Bar” in town to ask some of the locals, to find out what they had to say about the matter! They told us the legends & tales were all true. They also told us many other tales too, but that will be stories to tell for another blog journey.

Photos by Linda Gaden (c)

If you would like to know more about a Le Boat holiday charter in Ireland please go to our friend at Le Boat on this Link ~ be sure to let them know you read about a holiday on this blog!


Reflection


The boating holiday aboard our Le Boat private boat charter on the beautiful Irish waterway was just the most perfect way to enjoy the spectacular scenery & ancient treasures of the Emerald Isle; there were so many unique cultural experiences at every place we stopped. It was great to experience the beauty of the lush green countryside cruising the shimmering


sapphire water of the Emerald Isle’s waterway on our stunning Le Boat self-drive boat. It was easy to dock waterside & then explore the many quaint villages, majestic scenery, hauntingly beautiful monuments & fascinating historic sites at our own pace. It goes without saying, all along the way there was the famous Irish hospitality, delicious food, fabulous ales & plenty of good times to be found on our river escapade on Sionainn, Shannon’s wise river of the Emerald Isle.





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Welcome to Destination Serendipity for inspired travel journeys. I’m Linda De Angelis and I have travelled all over the world as a professional travel advisor. Remember to sign up for my inspired travel blogs. Just click on the button below.

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