A gateway to the Emerald Isle, the Grand Canal is the perfect way to explore everything Ireland has to offer. Here’s everything you need to know about this fantastic waterway including how to get there and what to see.
Where is the Grand Canal ?
The Grand Canal in Ireland is a canal waterway that runs through the centre of the country, connecting its port capital of Dublin on the eastern coast with the famous River Shannon in the west. Constructed in the late 18th century, the sheer engineering prowess and scale of the project made it one of the most significant in Irish history.
Throughout the centuries, many inlets and routes have been added to the Grand Canal, which means you can travel across much of central, western and southern Ireland, all from this handy waterway.
Cutting across central Ireland, the Grand Canal not only connects the Irish Sea to the River Shannon but also branches off to the southern end of County Kildare. This Barrow branch joins the River Barrow, leading boaters along the river all the way to the sea and the town of Waterford.
With such sprawling connections across the island of Ireland and being so intertwined with the nation’s capital, a Grand Canal boat ride is the perfect way to see many of Ireland’s most celebrated sights. A true mix of cityscape and riverside rural Ireland, the Grand Canal is up there as the best route to choose for boating holidays in Ireland.
How to get to the Grand Canal
Connecting the Irish capital of Dublin with the inner countryside River Shannon, there are a number of places you can begin your boating journey along the Grand Canal . One of the most obvious and popular choices for starting is from the city of Dublin itself. Often the gateway for those flying or sailing into the country, Dublin provides the perfect beginning point for a Grand Canal cruise .
Before setting off on your Grand Canal adventure, you can soak up many of the sights and sounds of Dublin and get a feel for the built-up parts of such a green island. Setting out from Dublin, you will quickly see the landscape change, from one of suburban canalside docks to one of rolling farmland, giving the country its affectionate anime of the Emerald Isle.
Aside from the obvious starting point of Dublin, you can begin your journey down the Grand Canal from the humble County Offaly town of Banagher. Banagher boat hire is a great way of securing your boat in the heart of the country, allowing you to branch out eastward towards the capital. Aside from having a Locaboat base here, the town of Banagher has its own charm, set along the riverbank of the River Shannon; it provides a quintessential place to enjoy the very best of rural Ireland.
Starting from Banagher, your journey along the celebrated River Shannon will take you through the idyllic Irish countryside, meandering through the rural sights and iconic landmarks. A little north of the town, the waterway will turn east, joining the Grand Canal .
Best time of the year to travel the Grand Canal
Admittedly, Ireland is not overly famous for its glorious weather; there are defiantly certain times of the year that will provide better Grand Canal journeys . Being amongst northern Europe, the weather in Ireland and along the Grand Canal is at its best during the high summer months of July and August. The only drawback to travelling along the canal during this time is the fact it coincides with much of Europe’s holiday season, making it peak season for holidaymakers.
Journeying down the Grand Canal during spring and autumn, although a little cooler, this autumnal and spring charm offers a new experience and feel to the holiday. Visiting during these shoulder season months also means the traffic along the canal is at its lowest and is far more relaxed.
4 Things to see and do along the Grand Canal
Admire flora and fauna along the waterway
Although the Grand Canal was initially seen as a huge engineering project and one that was to change the landscape of central Ireland, you may be surprised to learn that the route from Dublin to Shannon harbour is one that has widely been untouched by modern industry and agriculture. This has meant that the canalside banks and surrounding area have remained a haven for both plant and animal life.
The Emerald Isle of Ireland is one that is widely renowned for being the typical and quintessential ideal of the wild and welcoming countryside – this is exactly what you get when travelling along the Grand Canal .
For the lovers of all things that grow, Grand Canal boat hire will take you along a botanist’s dream come true. The 82 miles of canal waterways plays host to a wide variety of plant life, and visiting during certain seasons will bring this plant life into its most pristine. Common reed, club rush, meadowsweet, horsetail and flag iris are all frequent species along the canal and provide a fantastic habitat for sheltering animals, including birds and small mammals.
As well as the colourful and breathtaking video of plants, flowers and woodlands, the Grand Canal also offers up the chance to get a glimpse of Ireland’s wide plethora of wildlife. Top of this list is definitely the sheer range of bird species that live along the waterway, and spotting these feathery friends is a great way to pass the time.
Species such as wrens, dunnocks, robins, thrushes, tits and finches all litter the canalside all year round. Other birds such as sedge warblers, swallows, sand martins and housemartins all come out to bask in the Irish summer sun and are an idyllic sight to see.
Travelling along the Grand Canal during dusk or dawn will quietly draw your eye towards the various mammals that also live alongside the waterway. From elusive creatures such as foxes, badgers and hedgehogs to the ever-popular otters that live in the large groups along Irish waterways. All in all, the canal offers a fantastic place to view Irish wildlife and will surely be a highlight of the holiday.
Try your hand at a spot of fishing
Wildlife is not the only popular pastime on the waterways of Ireland; fishing also brings in thousands of visitors to the waters of Emerald Isle, hoping to catch their next big fish. Although a man made water system, the Grand Canal has long held a huge range of freshwater fish species, some placed here over the centuries while others are added to keep up fish stock.
As you make your way from east to west, you will find there are a multitude of different fishing spots along the way. Each one of these will give its own unique attraction; whether that’s a certain breed of fish or just of the tranquil surroundings it offers to the humble angler.
Where the canal passes near the small town of Edenderry, you will come across a popular fishing spot on the Grand Canal . This spot is home to a plethora of different fish, including tench, bream, rudd, perch and increasing numbers of roach and small carp. The helpful nearby fishing club and bait shop only add to the popularity of fishing at this section of the Grand Canal.
Fishing on the Grand Canal is some of the most rewarding angling you can do in all of Ireland, so make sure you pack your best rod and tackle when setting out on your Grand Canal boat .
Explore the charming town of Tullamore
There are several well-established towns and villages along the Grand Canal and each one offers its own sense of Irish charm and picturesque, idyllic town views. One of these towns is the town of Tullamore, which can be seen as the halfway point on the canal, directly between the capital Dublin and the theoretical end of the canal at Shannon Harbour.
Stopping off to explore the quaint town of Tullamore is a choice you will not regret and will give you a sure insight into laidback rural Ireland life. Famous the world over for producing the well known Tullamore DEW whisky, you can get a real up close and personal insight into the production of this iconic drink and its history at the Tullamore DEW Visitors Centre. Not only can you learn about the distilling process, but you can also sample a drip of Tullamore’s highest regarded export.
Once you’ve warmed your soul with a shot of the best whiskey around the Irish midlands, why not get your dose of history by heading to the nearby Charleville Castle. This Gothic Revival Castle has a textured past. Playing host to such famous figures as Lord Byron, the castle has been a popular stop-off for centuries and gives you a real insight into the region’s significance in the past.
Visit the Banagher, the gateway to the River Shannon
Not far from the end of the Grand Canal and its connection to the River Shannon, you’ll pass through the town of Banagher. Famous for being one of the hubs of boat travel along Ireland’s central waterways, Banagher is a must-visit for anyone travelling along the Grand Canal or looking for a River Shannon boat hire.
The town itself isn’t very big, and yet its size does not match up to the hub of activity and culture to be found here. One of the most popular attractions in the small town of Banagher is J.J. Hough’s Singing Pub. This 250-year-old pub has everything you would come to expect from a traditional Irish public house. From nights filled with live local folk music to ordering a Bo Bristle beer while you are here, a beer brewed locally right in the heart of Banagher.
Apart from the booming sociable atmosphere, the history of the pub itself is one worth exploring. The pub’s structure dates back to an early 14th-century monastery, giving the building heritage status. This perfect blend of local history and local hospitality is what really makes a visit to Banagher worth it.
Continue your journey through to the River Shannon
With the Royal Canal connecting two of the biggest Irish geographical institutions, the capital of Dublin and the iconic River Shannon, boating along this waterway gives you the opportunity to see both.
If your journey begins at the eastern edge of the Grand Canal , then your final stop will be Shannon Harbour. And, while this is considered to be the official end, it is also just the beginning of waterway exploration on the island; this also happens to be the entrance to the famous River Shannon.
Grand Canal history is seamlessly linked with that of Ireland’s main waterway of the River Shannon. Once you enter the river, it will become far more evident that this is a naturally made watercourse and this only adds to the sense of adventure. The winding and meandering watercourse, punctuated by loughs and inlets such as Lough Ree and Lough Key, only adds to the numerous must-see sights along the waterway.
For those who make the journey further up the River Shannon, then stopping at the town of Carrick-on-Shannon is a must. The town itself is an assuming hub for all river and canal travellers along the midlands waterways of Ireland. Boat hire on Carrick-on-Shannon is also a huge part of the town’s economy, and Locaboat’s base here makes this even easier to do.