The Lakelands, a secret Ireland

Do you think you know everything about Ireland then? In the center of Southern Ireland. A region of immense natural lakes fed over more than 300 km by the Shannon River.

Freshwater cruises pass islands to Celtic monasteries and romantic castles. Along the canals, the peat bogs are blooming with mauve and gold, the birds make the reed beds tremble. A beautiful corner of Ireland to discover, off the beaten track. 

The Lakelands, in the very center of Ireland

- Lakelands extend around the Shannon, the longest river in the British Isles, with 386 km. This cordon of several large lakes, connected by the Shannon, delimits a natural border between the east and the west of southern Ireland.

In a countryside landscape of fresh water and remarkable oaks, bogs and meadows, graze black-faced sheep and rustic cows with different colored coats, whether dairy or meat. The deer of the wooded shores rub shoulders with countless migratory birds.

Castles and monasteries alternate with farms and cozy houses. Rich in Celtic remains, the Lakelands saw the first hermits settle on the islands. They were drawn to this fertile region at the crossroads of trade and river routes, before advancing towards the wild west coast.  

The region can be explored on foot, following the markings of the Little Yellow Man, little yellow man, or by bicycle, but especially in boats of all kinds.

Many cruises, from fast and manoeuvrable cruises to comfortable boats, can be rented on these lakes which are suitable for navigation. We can arrange these lake crossings with waterways by following more slowly the canals connecting Dublin to the west coast.

Stages to choose from while chatting in one of the innumerable tea rooms in this peaceful region, around scones or delicious homemade cakes. In the evening, a pint of Guinness will be deserved!

Lough Derg Cruise

Located south of the Lakelands, not far from the mouth of the Shannon on the ocean and Limerick, the port of Killaloe - pronounce Killallluuuu - has a lot of charm: castle, pubs, pleasure boats, swans, herons and old bridge… we embark for the derg lake (118 km2)!

This small inland sea is rather wild with its reed beds and forest hills. They take on a mountain-like appearance in Mountshannon, where the rare white-tailed eagle has been reintroduced recently.

Holy island is a recommended excursion from the port of Podumna, when the weather permits. Its very old Celtic sanctuary and its round tower are still the subject of a national pilgrimage. Don't forget to make a wish on the Kissing Stone! The formidable Vikings are not forgotten on this lake where one of the first Irish kings, Brian Boru, won a victory in the XNUMXth century ...

The ruins of fortified castles overgrown with ivy, white and isolated dwellings of all sizes, as well as discreetly colored nautical equipment, enliven the horizon of the green banks.

North, from Lake Derg to Portumna, visit the Irish Workhouse Center. These sinister Houses of the Poor were exploited by the English government following the Great Famine of the 19th century. The heart sinks in front of the straw mattresses, listening to the deplorable conditions of these Irish families separated by sex and age to work better, if not to die of hunger ...

Birr, the eastern gate of the Lakelands

East of the Shannon, off the Dublin motorway, Birr - pronounce Beur - worth a stop for its 19th century castle in the purest English neo-Gothic style.

The very smarts it not the old name of the city of Birr?

Their magnificent garden is populated by collections of botanical plants brought back from Chile and China in the 17th century by their ancestors. Century-old magnolias dominate a waterfall surrounded by wonderfully composed massifs.

Built in 1845 by the 3rd Earl Parsons, a gigantic telescope, the Leviathan, intrigues among the lawns of irreproachable green. Considered the largest in the world in its time, it consists of an enormous 17 m tube suspended between two 15 m high walls and a three-ton bronze mirror.

It is said that Sir William exchanged scientific correspondence with our learned French photographer Daguerre… The telescope, restored in 1998, is no longer used for security reasons, but remains the main attraction of the Birr Castle Science Center.

Lough Boora Nature Reserve

Still going north, the Shannon crosses many canals, once necessary for transport. They irrigate the black landscape of peat bogs and flood meadows in the region. Heather and golden broom abound on the moors.

Stop at Ballynahown for a memorable cup of tea at Craft VillageStudio, located in the old school of this tiny town. A mix of flowery cushions, homemade cakes, antiques and crafts where the hostess shares her passion for the Wood Bogs, these millennial woods lightened by the peat that she is going to look for herself. Light yew and dark oak are polished and sculpted in his workshop.

Not far, the peat bog of Lough Boora is classified as a nature reserve. An opportunity to browse its many marked trails by bike or on foot and discover in a setting that deserves the sun, sculptures sometimes incongruous, even neglected, made by former peat bogs and artists.

So don't be surprised to come across at the bend of the paths, a train of symbolic and abandoned wagons or disheveled tree trunks of any beauty. At their feet, carnivorous plants Droseras, Dionaea or Nepenthes and greedy ducks add to this Irish atmosphere where all that is missing is the wisps.

The islands of Lough Ree

A narrow country road leads up to Lake Ree and Athlone, crossing the Grand Canal from Dublin.

20 km south of Athlone, the listed site of Clonmacnoise can be visited for its monastery with seven churches founded in the year 545 by Saint Ciaran. A place chosen in the center of Ireland and its old commercial axes. The cross of the Holy Scriptures preserves, over 4 meters high, magnificent sculptures that have remained as they are. The meadows, dotted with ruins, towers and tombs, extend to the Shannon which winds below.  

The river is watched further north by the 13th-century castle-museum ofAthlone. Sleepy shopping, an old-fashioned pub, hotels, and above all a port of embarkation ensure a serene atmosphere for freshwater Irishmen or discerning fishermen. Eel and salmon are on your plate.

A speedboat ride allows you to navigate between the countless Lake Ree Islands (105 km2), bypassing the reeds and oaks. On one, the viking gold helmet of the terrible Turgesius was found. On another, an isolated bachelor has replaced the hermits, making many Irish women fantasize ... But as the captain specifies, you need the means to live alone here: boat, generator, TV ... nothing to do with the destitution of the monks!

Do you still have time? Do not hesitate to go up the river, towards the little ones Allen, Key and Erne lakes, sung by Oscar Wilde and, why not, to the source of the Shannon, at Shannon Pot, some 4 kilometers from Northern Ireland.


Find all the practical information, tips and addresses in the Routard Ireland bookstore.

Consult our Ireland online guide

Irish Tourist Board

Tips: Remember the changing weather. To put it mildly in Ireland. Anticipate rain, wind and sun and never despair of clearing up. The photographer remains on his guard!

The Lakelands are recommended between May and the end of October.

How to get there ?

Fly to Dublin Airport, hire car.

Accommodation, catering:

Hotels are numerous and preferable to B & B.

Some addresses:

- Killaloe : Lakeside Hotel overlooking the lake, and Goosers (restaurant)

- Podumna : Glamping Village, where you will be welcomed by the Ridge family in this new conception of accommodation in a wooden hut with table d'hôte and excellent family cooking.  

- Ballinahown Tea Rooms 

- Athlone :

Hotels: Radisson Athlone (in town) and Winepmort (5 km away, more chic with direct view of the lake and quality restaurant).

Restaurant: Left Bank Bistro (for unforgettable Angus beef with pepper). Pub next door, one of the oldest in Ireland: Sean's Bar.

Boat cruises: (Katrina Mc Girr), for all varieties of river locomotion. (stars on Lough Ree).

Audio Video The Lakelands, a secret Ireland
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