Holidays on a luxury barge? In Leitrim? Whatever floats your boatel

A couple keen to make a living on the river have launched tailor-made stays on board ‘Lovely Leitrim’


They got the idea while lazing on a houseboat on the Kerala Backwaters in south India. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to do this in Leitrim?’” says Mary McInerney.

It may seem like a long way from a floating hotel on that subtropical maze of waterways and rice paddies to a barge on the Shannon-Erne Waterway but, duly inspired, McInerney and her Norwegian husband, Jorn Bjerknes, got to work on Lovely Leitrim.

The 70-ft, 26-tonne “boatel”, which was launched last night in Carrick-on-Shannon by actor/comic Pat Shortt, has two double cabins, an outdoor patio on the stern deck, a light-filled dining area spacious enough to accommodate a wine bar, and an eclectic mix of artwork and furnishings. The dishwasher, washing machine and hob are hidden behind wood-panelled shelving and counters.

“We will cook on board but we will sleep in our own barge to give guests privacy – but to be near enough if they need us,” explains McInerney. The couple live on the more modest 15-tonne Froya, which has been their home for seven years, and were determined to earn a living on the water.

“I bought the cocktail bar before we even got the steel for the new barge ,” says McInerney, in what might be a hint of how important entertaining is on their list of priorities. She spent the building period in her favourite interior shops, including Roche Bobois in the Beacon centre in Dublin where the bar was purchased.

The “boatel” – with only two cabins it does not officially qualify as a hotel – was built by Graham Thomas, of the Riversdale boatyard in Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, who also built Froya.

“The steel hull was imported in laser cuts from England,” says Jorn, who has a skipper’s licence. “It was assembled piece by piece. There were 30,000 pieces and they were all numbered. It was like a jigsaw”. Both vessels were docked through the winter at Keshcarrigan, of which John McGahern once said: “Keshcarrigan is very close to where I live and very little ever happens there.”

Whether it’s their preoccupation with getting their new business up and floating, or their love of taking Froya on extended trips as far as Enniskillen or the Grand Canal Basin, the couple seem to have no problem with the pace of life in Keshcarrigan.

The community there has supported the project and Bjerknes’s postal addresses is Gertie’s bar, Keshcarrigan, where large packages such as paint and building supplies are delivered. Just as important has been the support of funding bodies such as Leitrim Development Company (LDC) and Leitrim Local Enterprise Office, given that the price tag for Lovely Leitrim was close to €300,000.

Thirty-five per cent of the money came from that LDC but according to McInerney its development officer James Duffy did a much more important job than signing cheques, crucial and all as that was. “He has been so supportive – he never got tired of us and we have called one of the cabins ‘James’.” The other is called “Bitten”, after Bjerknes’s mother.

Guests contemplating a holiday on Lovely Leitrim will be interested to know that both their hosts are qualified chefs. “Whether they want lobster Benedict or a fry-up for breakfast, we will do it,” says McInerney.

She stresses that the holidays will be tailor-made and very much at the luxury end of the market with most interest expected to come from foreign holidaymakers.

Cruises can be designed to cater for golfing enthusiasts or for those interested in hillwalking, water sports, or places of historical or literary interest. “During the off-season we will operate as a pop-up wine bar, probably visiting a lot of festivals,” says McInerney, thinking of Carrick-on Shannon Water Music Festival and the Happy Days Beckett Festival in Enniskillen.

Potential menus tested on friends and neighbours include white chocolate risotto with scallops, and Moroccan chicken with preserved lemons.

Every piece of art has a story, such as an original painting by their friend Ger Sweeney or limited-edition prints by Leonie King, who owns Oranmore Castle and is a niece of Jack Leslie, from Castle Leslie, who died recently. Their favourite fittings include slimline black glass radiators imported from Romania and solid elm sinks in the cabin bathrooms.

The half-door in the wheelhouse recalls a past life in a cottage in Spiddal and, like much of the interior, is by French-born Drumshanbo-based carver Charlie Perpoil whose commissions include work on a castle for a Belgian princess who wanted a bed like Marie Antoinette’s.

A seven-night fully catered break (including wines supplied by Enrico Fantasia of Grapecircus) will cost €2,500 per person. Shorter cruises are also available.


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