Ireland by kayak: Five inland waterways to explore
Want to see Ireland’s lakes and inland waterways by canoe or kayak? Here’s where to start
Canoes by Clashganny lock on the river Barrow in Co Carlow
Living on an island it’s understandable that we often gravitate towards our country’s rugged coastline for leisure activities. However, when it comes to water-based pursuits our lakes and inland waterways provide a pleasant – and often calmer – alternative to coasts.
Recently we have seen significant development across Ireland’s waterways, with a addition of walking paths, cycling routes and paddling trails. Here are some options.
Slow it all down on the river Foyle
A two-day paddle on the river Foyle (costing £179 per person) focuses on slow travel and leaving your stresses behind. Departing from Strabane, Co Tyrone, Adrian Harkin from Inish Adventures will guide you down the river to Gribben, a mid-19th-century salmon processing building and pier. Nowadays it’s home to a shelter and a nice stretch of grass overlooking the water, a lovely spot to pitch a tent.
The evening is spent sharing stories while munching on an array of local produce and barbecued meat. After a leisurely breakfast the next day it’s back on the river to paddle to an end point in Derry city. Adrian will even put sails on the canoes if the weather suits it, further adding to the relaxation of this trip.
Discover the Lower Bann
Stretching from Lough Neagh to the Antrim coast, the 58km Lower Bann canoe trail provides a unique way to experience this lovely river. Passing through changing scenery, you’ll paddle on both flat water and some faster-flowing sections.
The trail can be tackled in day-long sections or alternatively you can complete the whole lot over a weekend, stopping at one of the campsites en route.
Outdoor Concepts offers a two-day guided excursion on the Lower Bann for £125. This includes a guide, equipment hire and food.
Alternatively you can hire a kayak or canoe and go it alone. East Coast Adventures offers canoe/kayak and camping equipment hire from £100 per day (discounts offered for multiple days). They will even transport the equipment to and from their base in the Mourne Mountains if required.
There are also a number of B&Bs along the river offering transfers, drying facilities and secure storage for your kayak.
On water and land on the Shannon Blueway
The Shannon Blueway is home to an array of water- and land-based trails. Stretching from Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim, at the foot of Lough Allen, on to Carrick-on-Shannon, and continuing as far as Lanesborough, Co Longford, the Shannon Blueway offers 100km of paddling trails, 30km of walking trails and 23.5km of cycling trails.
The paddling trail is broken up into manageable sections and there is also paddling on the Camlin river looped trail, starting from the picturesque Richmond Harbour, Co Longford.
One of the highlights is the recent addition of the floating boardwalk around Acres Lake. Known unofficially as the Snake on the Lake, the 600m route between Drumshanbo and Carrick-on-Shannon gives people the opportunity to walk on water.
Adventure Gently offers full-day and half-day micro-adventures on the Shannon Blueway for couples, families and larger groups. Prices start at €175 for a group of four for a half day. Canoe and kayak hire can also be arranged with Arthur Rozel (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Go with the Flow on the river Barrow
The Barrow is the perfect river to escape the bustle of everyday life. Running for 192km from its source in Glenbarrow in the Slieve Blooms, Co Laois, it wends its way across Laois, Kildare, Carlow, Kilkenny and Wexford before joining the Suir and entering the sea in Waterford.
Arguably the best way to experience the Barrow is from the water. Offering a nice combination of flat water and the odd weir thrown in to bring a dash of excitement, it’s a great way to spend a day or longer if you have the time.
Go with the Flow offers a range of trips which are suitable for the whole family, from single days out to more adventurous multi-day excursions. Its three-day, self-guided Digital Detox trip (€99 per person) starts in Bagenalstown and finishes in St Mullins (both Co Carlow). The trip includes two nights wild camping at Goresbridge and Graiguenamangh (both Co Kilkenny). The abundance of idyllic wild swimming spots along the way makes the trip all the more enjoyable.
Go wild on the Lough Derg Blueway
Lough Derg is Ireland’s second largest lake with shores in three counties – Galway, Clare and Tipperary. With its mighty size comes an abundance of breathtaking scenery, picturesque villages and endless activities. The newly developed Lough Derg Blueway is the perfect place for an outdoorsy weekend away.
On the water alone there are 160km of designated paddling trails. The trails are broken up into 21 sections – ranging from easy, which are perfect for beginners, to more challenging stints for experienced paddlers.
There’s abundance of access points around Lough Derg. There are also a number of spots which are ideal for picnics or even an overnight if you fancy making it a multi-day adventure. Waterways Ireland has developed a number of shower and toilet facilities along the routes.
Wildlife enthusiasts should definitely make a point of paddling over towards Portumna Forest Park on the north shore of the lake. Recently reintroduced white-tailed sea eagles have been breeding here for a number of years, so there is a chance of seeing these magnificent birds from the water.
Rueben Noyce, from Lough Derg Watersports is a guide who is more than willing to offer some paddling technique tips along the way. Departing from a base at Kilgarven, Lough Derg Watersports caters for all ages and level of paddler. Lough Derg Watersports and UL Adventure Centre both offer kayak hire and guided excursions.
The river Foyle
The river Barrow
Heather Snelgar and Roisin Finlay edit Outsider.ie, Ireland’s outdoor and adventure website and magazine.