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    Cruise Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands

    The key to Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands is the River Shannon. For millennia it has been the traditional boundary between ‘the West’ and the rest of Ireland.

    Relax on a private customized tour from Dublin Airport or Shannon Airport around parts of the Emerald Isle with one of our private chauffeur drivers and luxury vehicles before hiring a boat to discover the quiet waterways off the beaten track along the River Shannon. You may be only 90 minutes from the country’s main cities, but once you connect to the serene and scenic network of the lakes and rivers in Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands, you will feel like you are a million miles away from it all.

    Athlone, County Westmeath ©


    Experience a short cruise over a long weekend or spend a leisurely week savoring the constantly changing landscape and wildlife along the River Shannon from Leitrim to Lough Derg. You don’t need a boating licence to hire a boat from Silverline Cruisers, Carrick Craft and Emerald Star – From their bases at Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim, Banagher, County Offaly and Portumna County Galway. All offer a range of rental options from 2-10 berths.

    Relax and unwind into a difference pace of life as you meander along the magnificent River Shannon on an unforgettable self drive cruise.

    There are lots of beautiful, picturesque villages to visit along the River Shannon from Ballina, Co. Tipperary and Killaloe, Co. Clare to Garrykennedy and Terryglass.

    Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim © Tourism Ireland

    Attractions to explore along the River Shannon

    During your cruise of Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands, discover the ancient monastic site of Clonmacnoise, visit Lough Key Forest Park or uncover the historic Portumna Castle and Gardens.

    Clonmacnoise, County Offaly.

    Easing along the River Shannon from Athlone, the mighty channel gently drags you from modern Ireland past the lush fields of Westmeath, until you round a bend and land right in the middle of the 6th century at Clonmacnoise, County Offaly. Established by St Ciarán Mac a tSaor (“son of the carpenter”), Clonmacnoise was situated at the intersection of the River Shannon and Ireland’s major east-west road at the time, a strategic location that proved crucial to its growth. By the 9th century, it was Ireland’s most famous monastery along with Clonard, and visited by scholars from all over Europe as a leading centre of religion and education. Between the 9th and 11th centuries, it even became a burial site for the High Kings of Tara. Dating from 545AD, the extensive remains of a cathedral, round tower, high crosses and no fewer than seven churches belie their boggy remoteness. The long and varied history of Clonmacnoise is recounted in an audiovisual presentation shown in the visitor centre. There are also exhibitions that deal with the flora, fauna and landscape of the region.

    Clonmacnoise, County Offaly © Failte Ireland

    Lough Key Forest & Activity Park, Boyle, Co. Roscommon.

    The Lough Key Forest Park Experience takes you on a journey of discovering how humans shaped the landscape over thousands of years. Explore the 19th-century underground tunnels, climb to the top of the Moylurg viewing tower and stroll along the park’s unique tree canopy walk. For something a little more adventurous, try zip-line action at Zipit Forest Adventures, or rent an electric bike to cycle the 8km of woodland trails. If you’d like to try gliding around the park instead, join the Rockingham Roll guided Segway tour for 30 minutes of fun.

    Lough Key Forest Park, Co. Roscommon © Chris Hill & Tourism Ireland

    Bay Sports, County Roscommon. 

    For the energetic visitors out there you might like to experience Bay Sports, Ireland’s largest inflatable waterpark on Lough Ree, County Roscommon – Just outside Athlone in County Westmeath. It also holds the Guinness World Record for the largest floating slide in the country.

    Portumna Castle & Gardens, County Galway.

    Portumna is one of the prettiest towns in County Galway. It boasts a stunning location at the edge of the River Shannon and Lough Derg close to the Galway border with Tipperary. Portumna Castle & Gardens, a great semi-fortified house, was one of the most significant residences to be built in Ireland during its time. The castle was built about 1616 by a man of great power and wealth called Richard de Burgo (Burke). He was a descendant of the famous Norman clan – De Burgo, the 4th Earl of Clanrickarde and the Lord President of Connaught. In 1826 the house was gutted by an accidental fire and the family moved to the stables to live there until a new castle was constructed in 1862, which was again burnt to the ground in 1922. The last Marquis of Clanricarde sold the house to the state in 1948. The castle was carefully and extensively restored and preserved and is now one of the top visitor attractions in the west.

    Portumna Castle © Failte Ireland and Tourism Ireland

    Lough Derg on River Shannon. 

    The majestic 32,000 acres of Lough Derg, Ireland’s third largest lake after Lough Neagh and Lough Corrib, is nestled between the counties of Clare, Tipperary and Galway and is fully navigable waterway. At the southern end of the River Shannon, Lough Derg is a beautiful lake that holds many tales from our prehistoric past with 90 heritage sites around its shores.

    See the lakeside ‘twin towns’ of Killaloe, Co. Clare (western shore) and Ballina, Co. Tipperary (eastern shore). The picturesque towns are linked by an 18th century, 13 arch bridge – one of the most photogenic bridges in the country – and overlooked by rolling hills and grazing cattle. Even with this majestic structure it’s still hard to believe that picturesque little Killaloe with its medieval castle was once known as the ‘Capital of Ireland’. It’s the birthplace of Brian Boru, the High King who won a famous battle against the Vikings in the Battle of Clontarf.

    Canoeing, water skiing, kayaking, surfing and sub aqua diving are some high energy options on Lough Derg which is also an excellent angling destination. Walking trails such as the East Clare Way and the Lough Derg Way allow you to spend a few days exploring the rolling hills by foot. The cycling routes and mountain bike trails offer a variety of challenges with stunning scenery guaranteed.

    Have a look at this short video to uncover Lough Derg in Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands.

    Cyclists enjoying a view overlooking Lough Derg, Co Tipperary. Photographer/Creator: Brian Morrison. ©Fáilte Ireland/Tourism Ireland

    Make a Break for Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands.

    Discover a glorious mix of challenging mountains, lively towns and scenic landscapes that will take your breath away!

    To arrange a cruise of Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands and a private chauffeur driver tour around places you wish to see in the Emerald Isle contact Specialized Travel Services. You can send an email to or complete our contact form

    For further inspiration for your Ireland vacation of a lifetime, take a look at our Private chauffeur drive tours. The delights of Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands are yours to uncover.



    Note: Featured image at the top of the blog is of a boat cruise on the River Shannon near Clonmacnoise © Tourism Ireland

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      Cruise on the River Shannon © Fáilte Ireland
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      Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly © Fáilte Ireland
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      Killaloe Co. Clare © Fennell Photography


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