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River of dreams Travel Editor Daragh Keany and his family take to the Shannon visiting seven different counties in a staycation like no other

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Daragh, Sarah and their daughters Chloe and Mia enjoyed a cruise down the Shannon in August

Daragh, Sarah and their daughters Chloe and Mia enjoyed a cruise down the Shannon in August

Sarah, Mia, Daragh and Chloe messing about on the river.

Sarah, Mia, Daragh and Chloe messing about on the river.

Sarah and Mia at the wheel.

Sarah and Mia at the wheel.

Mia and Chloe up front while Sarah steers the boat.

Mia and Chloe up front while Sarah steers the boat.

The first night at Cootehall.

The first night at Cootehall.

The whole family swimming in Lough Ree.

The whole family swimming in Lough Ree.

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Daragh, Sarah and their daughters Chloe and Mia enjoyed a cruise down the Shannon in August

Similar to the surprise current at Termonbarry Bridge (more of that later) I found an unexpected sense of nostalgia coursing through my veins when I stepped inside a pub in Shannonbridge, 31 years after I last darkened its door.

The summer of 1990 was when I last took part in a boating holiday on Ireland’s Shannon river and while I may not remember lots about that particular holiday (I was only 10, to be fair) I vividly remember Fallon’s Pub because it was where my parents and my brother and I watched Kevin Sheedy famously equalise against England at Italia ‘90.

Fast forward three decades and my Cidona has been replaced by Guinness and now I am the dad of the family of four on a summer holiday.

It’s day five of a week-long adventure on Ireland’s greatest natural resource and of all the emotions I expected on this epic summer holiday I never anticipated pangs of reminiscence.

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Sarah, Mia, Daragh and Chloe messing about on the river.

Sarah, Mia, Daragh and Chloe messing about on the river.

Sarah, Mia, Daragh and Chloe messing about on the river.

Our journey started the previous week when Team Keany drove to Carrick on Shannon in Leitrim to rent a gigantic cruiser from Le Boat (previously Emerald Star).

Such is the demand at Le Boat these days, we were only able to secure a one-way rental which meant we had a week to take our floating home (nicknamed ‘Gertrude McBoaty’ by my kids) from the company’s headquarters in Carrick to their office in Portumna, where our car would be waiting for us thanks to their drop off service.

Now I would love to tell you how adventurous and spontaneous we were from start to finish living each day as it was our last and discovering new places along the way by pure chance. But that’s just not me.

So, the prospect of not having berths booked at marinas (they are predominantly public spaces so it is a first come first served system) was not exactly helping my already-high blood pressure. Throw in the fact that I was navigating a body of water in a vehicle that can sleep 10 comfortably and it was pouring out of the heavens. Safe to say that our opening 24 hours of our summer holiday was not ideal.

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Mia and Chloe up front while Sarah steers the boat.

Mia and Chloe up front while Sarah steers the boat.

Mia and Chloe up front while Sarah steers the boat.

But the beauty of this type of holiday is that you are learning on the job. With each mooring and every ‘driving hour’ under your belt you become more confident behind the wheel. And by the end of day two the rain dissipated and we were blessed with Mediterranean weather for five whole days.

We navigated five locks, three bridges, a few handmade canals and did three full lengths of Lough Ree during the course of our week. We stayed in six different locations (Cootehall, Termonbarry, Glasson, Lanesborough, Shannonbridge and Portumna) and travelled through seven different counties and by the time our journey came to an end I felt like I was a complete pro at parking and docking the enormous boat. I almost felt I earned the Captain’s hat that the kids got me before the trip even began. Almost.

There were no crashes, bumps and no one fell over at any stage during the trip so by ticking those boxes it was immediately deemed a success. The thing is, once you strip back those important factors of a boating holiday the rest is, in truth, a bit of a lottery. And we hit the jackpot.

If you get bad weather you may find yourselves fighting like demons in your cabin. If you get to your desired destination late some day you may find yourself without an obvious spot to park for the night, which usually means heading on to the next town (that could be 2-3 hours away) or you ‘double berth’ onto another boat already moored.

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Sarah and Mia at the wheel.

Sarah and Mia at the wheel.

Sarah and Mia at the wheel.

That in itself comes with its own stressful predicaments like ‘what if I crash into the guy who spent his entire retirement package on a €150k boat?’ or ‘what if the inside boat wants to leave at the crack of dawn and we are all still asleep?’

These are all things that occupied my mind in the build up to our week on water. But (and it’s a big BUT) I needn’t have worried myself. The boating community is a rock sold crew who all help each other and look out for one another.

Newbies (like us) are easily spotted because we are in a rental vessel. So, as we pulled into each town we were met with a host of fellow boating folk all willing to take our ropes and guide us in.

Even at the tricky Termonbarry Bridge stop I found myself facing the wrong direction altogether while hurtling towards and similarly large vessel. But the more experienced captain of that boat simply guided us in and secured us to him so that we couldn’t drift off. Even the lock keepers at each lock were the friendliest, chattiest ambassadors for their respective towns as they helped the novices into position and enthusiastically enquired about our trip.

While we stayed in six different spots while also managing stop offs at BaySports at The Hodson Bay as well as a few pit stops in the middle of lough Ree for some unforgettable swimming…this holiday was all about our floating abode.

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The whole family swimming in Lough Ree.

The whole family swimming in Lough Ree.

The whole family swimming in Lough Ree.

Four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a gigantic living room with a full HD TV, a kitchen, a shower room, two fridges, ten lifejackets and enough space up on deck to easily sit everyone is what came with Gertrude McBoaty. Le Boat offer loads of extras too like umbrellas, BBQs and bikes if you fancy taking them with you.

Strategic packing and the luck of the weather meant that we were in our element from start to finish. We toasted our luck every night and lamented how much harder it could be if the heavens opened up. But after that initial down pour on day one, we were in our own floating heaven.

The kids will remember different things in the years to come. They will remember jumping into the lake early one morning after breakfast and the hour they spent on the aqua park in Athlone. They will remember their granny coming to have breakfast on the boat in Glasson and then standing on one of the bridges in Athlone waving to us as we drive past.

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The first night at Cootehall.

The first night at Cootehall.

The first night at Cootehall.

They (11 & 7) are too young to fully appreciate how special the whole trip was but in time they will look back on it with fondness and maybe, just maybe, they’ll revisit it themselves when they have kids and carry on the new tradition.

I may not be quite ready to run out and buy myself a boat just yet, but I guarantee it won’t be another three decades before I am back on the river.

TRAVEL FACTFILE

LOCATION
River Shannon with Emerald Star

■ A SEVEN-night self-catered cruise on the Shannon next season (March 14 -October 31, 2022), starting and finishing at Emerald Star’s base at Portumna or Carrick-on-Shannon, is priced from €639 per boat (€1,999 for a Magnifique).
■ For more information about Emerald Star visit their website here or call 071 962 7633.

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