History & Monuments: The Shannon, Shannon-Erne & Erne

Hold your charts a particular way, and it doesn't take a great leap of imagination to see the Shannon and Erne as a necklace. A reedy, rolling necklace maybe - but for sightseers of all sorts, its pearls are there for the taking. Historic houses, mournful monasteries and stony, seductive castles - the real problem lies in deciding what to leave out. ​

​Today, you might stop to cut turf at the Blackwater Bog. Tomorrow, you could be following ex-miners into the coal pits of Arigna. The day after, why not learn the art of fly fishing? 

Clonmacnoise, built by Saint Ciarán in the fifth century , illuminates the flood plains of the River Shannon. The site is  more than a mirror held up to monastic life, however. Perched on an esker, stuffed with nooks and crannies, it is the perfect place for a family picnic. 

Moving north, Crom Castle and Crichton Tower stand sentinel amongst the wetlands of Upper Lough Erne. Imbued with ochre moss, the latter reflects a slide show of Fermanagh light. On nearby Inis Rath, a Hare Krishna community has laid out a woodland trail; its spring paths explode with daffodils. 

Then there's Devenish Island sitting plum in the plughole of Lower Lough Erne. One moment you're in Enniskillen, bistro meal snap-fresh in the memory; the next you're tip-toeing around a crumbling, soulful Augustinian Abbey. 

A necklace indeed, to borrow from poet Eithne Cavanagh in which each bead holds a tiny galaxy. 

Ireland's Pleasure Lake: 

A full 32,000 acres in volume, Lough Derg boasts history enough to merit a holiday of its own. 

Brian Boru sailed here to meet the O'Connors of Connacht in battle; hermits, solders, raiders and students used to venture inland from the Atlantic; gems like Oldcourt in Terryglass and Caimin's Holy Island are ten-a-penny. All you need do is toss out the ropes. 

Joining The Dots:

In midsummer 1846, some 7,000 men set-to with gunpowder, picks and wheelbarrow. Beset by obstacles ranging from glacial boulders to the Great Famine, the finally linked the Shannon and the Erne in 1860. 

The result was a singularly unlucky piece of engineering. After 14 years of construction, railways were in ascendant in Ireland. By the time it was abandoned in 1869, all of eight boats had traversed the original Shannon-Erne Waterway. 

Today, it is a different story. A €30 million restoration has married quietude and automated locks into a channel travellers can explore at their own pace. Now that's the best of both world. 

Fishing For Folklore: 

Yeat's poem, The Stolen Child, resonates throughout the Leitrim countryside he adored. 

Wandering water gushes, cattle low and, for all one's modern cruising comforts, the faery lore runs thick as treacle. 

Legend has it, boys in these parts were once dressed in red petticoats to prevent them being stolen away. Nor were wayfarers safe. Little people lured them with music - they woke the next day to find their children grown up. 

St. Patrick banished the little people, of course. Or did he? Near Keshcarrigan, the fairy hills of Sheemore and Sheebd protrude like potbellies. Waking after a fireside pint at the local pub, perhaps take a moment to check you have aged no more than the usual day....

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