Last updated on November 25, 2023
Are you an avid paddler and kayak hiker? If so, you probably enjoy paddling for several days or even several weeks? Kayak travelers quickly think of Sweden or Croatia, but have you ever thought of Ireland?
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Water sports in any form are very popular here in Ireland. And Ireland has created a very impressive network of waterways over the years where vacation seekers and recreational captains can indulge in their hobby and spend wonderful vacations on the water.
In total there are over 1000km of waterways we are talking about here – do I have your attention? Very good!
In the following overview I would like to introduce you to the different inland waterways of Ireland and Northern Ireland and maybe your favorite waterway for your next paddling vacation is already there!
By the way, we live in Ireland (second home) and run our motorcycle rental business here during the summer months (www.easycruiser.tours). We also have nice guest rooms (www.the-view-accommodation.ie). We have traveled the island over and over again for many years and therefore know it very well.
The kayak logistics
I will also list kayak rentals. Most rentals in Ireland specialize in day family fun and group events. The websites don’t always tell you what else is available and often you can’t even find prices on the site.
This is normal in Ireland. If you want something, you call, they talk to each other and usually a solution can be found. Maybe he rents for the whole week and picks you and the kayak up at the end of the tour at your destination. So just call and talk.
Bring your own kayak
The kayaks from these rental companies are mostly open sit-on-top recreational boats. If you want to get around more quickly, it’s best to bring your own folding kayak as sports luggage on the plane.
If you want to go to Northern Ireland, it is best to fly to Belfast and you are already directly at Lough Neagh.
In Ireland, the main airport is located in the north of Dublin. From the bus station at the airport, long-distance buses (coaches) leave several times a day in practically all directions of Ireland.
So, with a little planning, you can easily take your kayak around Ireland on the bus – making one-way trips no problem. One of the larger bus networks is: www.buseireann.com, but there are also quite a few local bus companies that mostly serve the smaller towns from the cities.
The Lower Bann Navigation
Let’s start in Northern Ireland. West of Belfast you will find Lough Neagh. This large lake collects over 40% of the rainwater in Ireland. If you fly to Belfast, you will land almost directly next to the lake.
The water is fed to the sea via the Lower Bann, which is about 65 km long. The Lower Bann starts at Toome and ends at Barmouth, near Portstewart and the north coast of Northern Ireland.
The Lower Bann has 5 locks and was formerly used as a waterway for merchant shipping. Today, together with Lough Neagh, it is a recreational waterway.
The Lower Bann flows slowly and is easily navigable even for beginners. The beautiful landscape passes by contemplatively. Numerous migratory birds breed on its banks and eels and salmon cavort under the kayak.
There is a good infrastructure for water sports enthusiasts and accommodation and camping facilities are also available.
The Grand Canal
The Grand Canal was built already at the end of the 18th century, together with the Royal Canal. It connected the port of Dublin with the River Shannon in the west and was used by merchant ships for a long time. Today it is a popular waterway for pleasure boats.
The Grand Canal begins in the – now modern – docks of Dublin, runs through the city and then westward via Tullamore to Shannon Harbour on the southern part of the Shannon. The canal is about 130km long and has 52 locks.
Along its banks you will find old towpaths, which are now converted to cycle paths. So in principle you can paddle down the canal and cycle back!
The canal is relatively narrow and tranquil, making it beginner-friendly. It passes through some beautiful scenery in the “Heartland” of Ireland before reaching the Shannon.
Kayak rentals: www.time-off.de, www.citykayaking.com, www.midirelandadventure.ie.
The Royal Canal
The Royal Canal was built at about the same time as the Grand Canal and runs for about 140km from Dublin Harbour northwest via Mullingar to Cloondara on the northern part of the Shannon.
Everything else is very similar to the Grand Canal. And here, too, the towpaths are just being developed into long-distance bike paths.
The canal has very tranquil sections and invites to relaxed paddling. Since here, as on the Grand Canal, houseboats and cyclists are on the road, there is also a tourist infrastructure with camping, accommodation and shopping facilities.
The River Barrow
The River Barrow branches off the Granal in the southwest of Dublin and stretches for about 100km to the south coast of Ireland (Hook Peninsula). It has numerous locks and weirs.
In spring and autumn the river can flow quite briskly and then white water paddlers flock to the weirs. In summer, there is usually less water and the run is much calmer.
The narrow towpaths here are still natural and invite hiking, rather than biking.
There are many places where wild camping is allowed or tolerated and in the small towns along the way you can shop or stay overnight.
I know the River Barrow quite well because I live nearby (we have our 2nd residence in Ireland and run our motorcycle rental business there in the summer, www.easycruiser.tours).
The river is beautiful in many places, you see few houseboats and the places are not crowded – this is from my point of view for paddlers a real insider tip!
The Erne System
The River Erne feeds the two large lakes Upper Lough Erne and Lower Lough Erne and many other smaller lakes.
It runs mostly through Northern Ireland and then flows into the Atlantic Ocean at Ballyshannon (where the Shannon does not flow) on the west coast of Ireland.
The Erne system is famous for the numerous small and tiny islands it contains, especially in Upper Lough Erne – a labyrinth for wild campers and a paradise for paddlers. Lower Lough Erne is more open and therefore likes to be windier.
Kayak rentals: www.bluegreenyonder.com, www.castlearchdaleboathire.com/hires-rentals/kayak-canoe,www.canoeni.com.
The Erne-Shannon Blueway
This connects the Erne system in the north with the Shannon system further south. Ireland has established a number of “blueways” of particular interest to kayakers, hikers, and bicyclists, and has begun to establish infrastructure along the water for these interest groups. The Erne-Shannon Blueway is one such example.
Over 63km you will find many small lakes connected by small rivers and canals. Quiet paddling in a cozy environment.
The Blueway starts at Upper Lough Erne and meanders through the landscape until it meets the River Shannon at Leitrim Village.
Kayak rental: www.cavanadventure.ie.
The Shannon Navigation
Let’s move on to the longest waterway in Ireland, the River Shannon. Here you find among others the Shannon Blueway and the Lough Derg Blueway.
The Shannon stretches over 360km into the country until it finds its mouth into the Atlantic Ocean behind Limerick. Already in the early Middle Ages, the Vikings rowed their agile boats up the river, first to rob and later to trade. Also later the Shannon was for a long time one of the most important trade routes in Ireland. Not for nothing were the Grand Canal and the Royal Canal built in the 18th century with money and diligence to connect Dublin with the Shannon.
Today mainly houseboats, excursion boats, sailboats (on the lakes) and of course paddlers sail here. The Shannon is navigable from Lough Allen, near Sligo, to Limerick.
Since this is probably the busiest waterway in Ireland, you’ll find plenty of marinas and jettys, camping and B&Bs, and shopping opportunities.
Kayak rental companies: www.loughallenadventure.ie, www.dergisle.com, nevsailwatersports.ie, shannonriveradventure.com, thepaddleshack.ie.
Ireland offers over 1000km of waterways for you to paddle. Among them are quiet canals, small and big rivers, and many small and big lakes.
You will find plenty of water for a nice long paddle. The landlords are more focused on groups and day tourists, but as I said – just call and ask, maybe they rent for longer.
And bringing your own kayak is no problem at all if you arrive with your own car and you can also bring folding kayaks or inflatable boats as sports luggage by plane.
However you paddle – I wish you a great vacation in Ireland!
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Cover photo credit: photo by photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash