The Shannon Region is an ideal destination for canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts with the River Shannon and its magnificent Lough Derg Lake providing two fantastic canoeing trails; a 10km trail from O'Briensbridge to Limerick City and an 93km trail stretching all the way from Portumna in County Galway to the twin towns of Killaloe/Ballina on the Clare/Tipperary border. This longer trail can also be divided into a number of shorter routes which are ideal for novice paddlers.
The River Shannon and Lough Derg are areas rich in history and heritage. Lough Derg’s shores have been settled since prehistoric times and its channel has been part of one of Ireland's oldest routes. In early medieval times, hermits, heroes, soldiers, raiders, and pilgrims, all travelled along this 'highway' from the Atlantic Ocean to the Irish midlands. Today's travellers along the Shannon Region’s canoe trails can continue to explore its famous castles, tower houses, ancient ruins, monasteries, churches and other ecclesiastical treasures. As well as this the legacy of nineteenth century commercial activity on the lake, steam navigation, and barge traffic also remain alive in story and legend.
The area provides rich habitats for diverse flora and fauna. Lough Derg’s northern shores are particularly rich in flora species as the limestone underfoot provides suitable soils. Here the Irish fleabane, unknown elsewhere in Ireland or Britain, flourishes on some rocky shores and islands during July and August. A variety of plants can be seen including water lilies, hemp agrimony of the reedbeds, the rushes, grasses and sedges of the fens, and buckthorn, dogwood, spindle and Irish whitebeam of the rocky shores. Most of Ireland's larger wild animals can also be found around Lough Derg. Some like the rabbit, hare, grey squirrel, stoat and mink are active during the day; others like the hedgehog, badger, otter like the night. The fox is most often seen at dawn or dusk. And in the woody shores of western Lough Derg the pine marten seems to be growing in numbers.
The Shannon system is unequalled in Europe for the quality of its birdlife and Lough Derg shares in this distinction, having permanent residents and summer or winter visitors in its relatively undisturbed habitats. The coot, moorhen, grebe, duck, heron, gull, kingfisher, cormorant, bunting and of course the mute swans are among the permanent Shannon birds. In terms of the summer visitors warblers, swifts, swallows and house martins remain widespread.
The Shannon Region canoe trails offer you adventure, a good workout, an insight into Irish heritage as well as a unique view of the wilderness.
Lough Derg is one of Ireland's largest lakes and offers 32,000 acres of non-tidal waters, surrounded by beautiful countryside and visually dramatic cultural features, and is serviced by a range of quality watersport facilities for paddlers to enjoy.
An abundance of access points are located in picturesque towns and villages along the Shannon Region’s canoe trails. This Guide details the access points which are ideal for stopping off for lunch or for an overnight stay as you journey around the lake. This canoe trail begins at Portumna but it can also begin a little further north on the River Shannon at Shannonbridge and lead into Lough Derg.
Lough Derg - at a glance
Area: 13,0000 hectares
Width: 12km at its widest point
Length: 35km from north to south
Relative Size: The largest of the three lakes on the River Shannon, and the second largest lake in Ireland.
Location: The lake, at its southern tip is 25km from Limerick City and 48km from Shannon International Airport. It is surrounded by Counties Clare, Galway, and Tipperary. Also close by are Offaly, Limerick City and County Limerick, which are located on the banks of the River Shannon as it enters and leaves the lake respectively.
Point to Point Distances:
Shannonbridge - Shannon Harbour 11.8km;
Shannon Harbour - Banagher 3.6km;
Banagher - Meelick 8.4km;
Meelick - Portumna 14km;
Portumna - Terryglass 3.6km;
Terryglass - Kilgarvan 8km;
Kilgarvan - Dromineer 10.8km;
Dromaan/ Williamstown - Dromineer 7.5km;
Dromaan/ Williamstown - Garrykennedy 5.9km;
Dromaan/ Williamstown - Mountshannon 3.6km;
Mountshannon - Scarriff 7.5km;
Mountshannon - Garrykennedy 6.4km;
Scarriff - Garrykennedy 12.8km;
Dromineer - Garrykennedy 5.8km;
Scarriff - Killaloe/Ballina 17km;
Garrykennedy - Killaloe/Ballina 15.2km;
O'Briensbridge - Castleconnell 5km;
Castleconnell - Limerick 4.5km;
Due to a lack of facilities and safety issues, it is NOT POSSIBLE for canoeists to paddle from Killaloe/Ballina to O’Briensbridge. Paddlers who would like to journey from O'Briensbridge to Limerick must travel on land from Killaloe/Ballina to O’Briensbridge.
From O’Briensbridge, you can paddle on to Limerick City via Castleconnell. Canoeists should be aware that the stretch from the World’s End (upstream of Castleconnell) to Clareville Water Works is extremely fast flowing and should only be attempted by experienced paddlers. This area can be affected at any time and without warning, by the release of flood water at Parteen Weir. Paddlers are advised check with the ESB before attempting to navigate this stretch at any time. For more information telephone the Ardnacrusha Control Room at +353 (0)61 344601 during working hours – Monday to Friday 08h00 to 16h00. Contact the Ardnacrusha Lock-keeper outside of working hours at +353 (0) 87 9970131.
In the summer there is fishing on the stretch below Castleconnell, and access must be pre-arranged with the ESB from 1st march to 30th September. For more information telephone +353 (0)61 344511 during working hours. Out of courtesy to anglers, canoeists should aim to move to the far bank of where the anglers are fishing and pass downstream in single file.
The river is flat again as it flows down past the University of Limerick in Castletroy, where there are some small rapids. The trail then takes you on to Limerick, where the finishing point of this trail is located at the Marina at Customs House Quay. Paddlers should be aware of major changes in water flow conditions and should check the water conditions in advance. For navigating around Limerick City canoeists should follow the Waterways Ireland navigation information and instructions for this area (www.waterwaysireland.org).
Operators and Canoe Rental:
If you are planning on going on your first canoeing adventure in Ireland’s Shannon Region your first step should be to take a lesson with an operator approved by the Irish Canoe Union (ICU). You will be introduced to the sport in a safe environment and you will be given all the information, advice and basic skills required to get started. There are six activity operators with ICU approved instructors in the Shannon Region.
- Birr Outdoor Education Centre, Birr, Co. Offaly
- Shannon Adventure Canoeing & Camping Holidays Ltd, Banagher, Co. Offaly, canoe rental available
- Go with the Flow, Roscrea, Co. Tipperary, canoe rental available
- University of Limerick Activity Centre, Killaloe, Co. Clare
- Burren Outdoor Education Centre, Co. Clare
- Kilfinane Outdoor Education Centre, Kilfinane, Co. Limerick
Staying Safe on the Water:
When participating in canoeing note should be taken on the following safety advice:
1. Never ever take to the water alone - bring some friends who are competent canoeists and enjoy the river together!
2. Know how to swim and have the water confidence to deal with a capsised boat and get ashore safely.
3. Before you take to the water, take time to think safety. Always consider other water users.
4. Check your canoe is seaworthy and suitable for purpose. Get a second opinion.
5. Do not canoe without adequate buoyancy in the form of a personal life jacket or buoyancy aid. Canoe buoyancy should be sufficient to keep both the canoe and its occupants afloat if you capsize.
6. Mark the inside of your canoe with your name and telephone number - and put reflective tape on the outside to aid detection.
7. Dress for survival. Wear suitable highly visible, warm protective clothing marked with reflective tape.
8. Carry first aid kit, mini-flares, a strobe light, torch, map, compass and a whistle.
9. Advise someone ashore of the details of your planned trip, including times of departure and return.
10. Keep within your own abilities and the limitations of your canoe.
11. If you get into trouble, raise the alarm sooner rather than later, and stay with your canoe.
12. Check and heed the local weather forecast. The weather can be unpredictable so always be prepared for the worst. Check local forecasts and be prepared to change your plans accordingly. Return to base in good time – and well before daylight fades. Visit www.met.ie for weather conditions.
13. The River Shannon and Lough Derg can become rough in strong winds – carrying rafting poles is a sensible precaution (rafted canoes are more stable in rough conditions).
14. Get a copy of and heed the Limerick City Navigation leaflet www.waterwaysireland.org.
15. Avoid strong currents and local hazards.
Emergency Telephone Numbers:
Police and Ambulance – Dial 999 (all phones) or 112 (all phones)
Coast Guard – Dial 999 (all phones)