Last updated on November 25, 2023
The Irish island lies in the Atlantic Ocean. Surrounded by the sea on all sides, you can enjoy water sports all around.
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However, the Atlantic can also show its rough side, especially on the wild and romantic west coast. Houseboats or slower Cruiserboats don’t belong there at all…
The inland waters are much quieter and more leisurely.
And what few people know: You can sail over 1000 kilometres of inland waterways on the Irish island!
Most people have heard of the Shannon, the longest river in Ireland. But that is only a part of the possibilities for the recreational boater. North of the Shannon and its lakes, lies the Erne and its lakes.
This system is also very large and beautiful. Both systems are connected by the Shannon-Erne Waterway, a combination of small rivers and canals.
Then there are two long canals connecting Dublin on the east coast with the Shannon, near the west coast, the Royal Canal and the Grand Canal. Both run through the middle of the island, one a little further north and the other a little further south.
The River Barrow branches off from the Grand Canal. This leads to the south-east coast and flows into the sea near Waterford.
And in Northern Ireland there is the large lake Lough Neagh and the Lower Bann, which leads to the north coast.
All these waterways are now mainly used by leisure boating. And you can navigate them all with a houseboat!
There are several houseboat rentals in several places on these waterways. You don’t need a licence to hire a houseboat in Ireland. I will write separate articles about the rental stations and how to hire a houseboat, which I will link for you below.
By the way, we live in Ireland (second home). In summer we run our motorbike rental business here, south of Dublin (www.easycruiser.tours). And we also offer nice guest rooms for travellers (www.the-view-accommodation.ie). We have travelled the island many times and I also have some experience with boats of all kinds, including houseboats.
Today I would like to introduce you to your potential holiday destination:
The River Shannon is the longest river on the island. The length is always disputed, because it is not conclusive how much of the long estuary is assigned to the river and where the sea begins.
But officially it is about 360 kilometres long, of which about 260 kilometres are navigable. From Lough Allen in the northwest, to Limerick in the southwest, the Shannon reaches.
The Shannon also flows through many small and large lakes on its way to the sea. The large lakes are Lough Allen, Lough Key, Lough Ree and Lough Derg.
The gradient is low and so there are only a few locks to pass on the long route. But there are plenty of jetties and marinas and other infrastructure for houseboats.
The Royal Canal runs 146 kilometres from Dublin to the northern Shannon at Cloondara, above Lough Ree.
The canal was built in the 18th century for cargo barges, but is now only used by pleasure craft and small boats.
It is a small, cosy canal with a series of locks and many small jetties. It’s a relaxed way to travel and explore the Midlands.
The Grand Canal has a similar history to the Royal Canal. It connects Dublin with the southern Shannon over 117 kilometres. The small canal takes several bends through Dublin and then leisurely inland to Shannon Harbour.
There is also a branch to the south. The Grand Canal and the River Barrow come together at Athy.
The River Barrow flows south into the sea not far from Waterford. It is navigable by houseboat for 65 kilometres, namely from Athy to Saint Mullin`s.
By canoe it goes further south, into the sea, but for houseboats the Barrow navigation ends at Saint Mullin`s.
The Barrow is a beautiful, very natural river. It is well worth making the detour from the Grand Canal, even in either direction. There are a few locks, but they are easily manageable.
The Shannon-Erne Waterway extends the Shannon to the north, to the Erne system. You could also say it extends the Erne system south to the Shannon.
No matter which direction you take, you can’t go wrong! Over 63 kilometres you cycle through small rivers, small lakes and small canals – very quiet and simply beautiful.
River Erne and Lough Erne
The Erne system is almost an insider tip, because many people are drawn to the Shannon, but not everyone goes to the Erne.
This may be because it is in Northern Ireland. But it’s actually not a problem, because the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland is completely open.
The system consists of the River Erne, the great Upper Lough Erne and the great Lower Lough Erne. It starts at Belturbet and ends at Belleek – or vice versa. The beauty of it is that both lakes have numerous islands, especially Upper Lough Erne. This makes the area well protected from the wind and very scenic!
(River) Lower Bann and Lough Neagh
A little further north is Lough Neagh. This very large lake lies to the west of Belfast and practically in the heart of Northern Ireland. The water is drained to the north coast via the Lower Bann.
The lake is navigable and so is the Lower Bann to Coleraine on the coast. There are five locks on the approximately 35-kilometre stretch.
That doesn’t sound like much at first, but if you add the really big lake, you can easily spend a week’s houseboat holiday here.
The island of Ireland is a paradise for houseboats, both in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland. You can sail through the country on over 1000 kilometres of waterways.
I have described the most important 7 waterways in this article. After all, 6 of them are connected to each other! Only the Lower Bann in the north is on its own.
If you want to spend a houseboat holiday on the Irish island, you don’t even need a boat licence. The rental company will give you a briefing and then you’re ready to go. There are a few houseboat rental companies – I’ll link you to an article about them below.
Have I made you curious?
That’s good. So let’s go to Ireland!