In Ireland, boat hire holidays are not just a good idea – they’re the obvious way to see the country. Reinvent yourself while you steer your self-drive boat, with the sound of U2 or the Cranberries in the background. Rent a boat from one of our bases and set off on a waterways cruise through a land that’s greener than green.

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Boat hire holidays in Ireland: the best possible road trip…?

When people mention Ireland, lots of images come to mind. Heaths covered with heather, the ancient and colourful Irish language – a form of Gaelic – friendly pubs where Guinness is an institution, a deeply-anchored island culture, and Saint Patrick’s Day, when everyone gets up to dance…

This is a country that is closely bound up with the sea and gave birth to the great James Joyce. It’s a small island, criss-crossed by beautiful rivers and canals, and also dotted with navigable lakes that are teeming with salmon and trout. It has everything you need for really enjoyable boating holidays. The waterways in the heart of Ireland are like veins or arteries running through the country, flowing past castles perched on hillsides, granite villages, bustling towns, megaliths, thousand-year-old forests, monastic sites and golf courses with extensive greens. Ireland has 5,000 years of history as well as calm, gentle waters, bathed in a light that’s unique. All this can be enjoyed from your canal boat, which gives you total freedom to explore at your own pace.

This land of mystery and legend unfolds on every side as you cruise along the waterways. A unique and spectacular journey.

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The Shannon and the Erne, wonderful waterways to explore by boat

In this region you can enjoy one of the longest waterways networks in Europe – and one with the least traffic. Starting from our base at Carrick-on-Shannon or Banagher in the Republic of Ireland, boat hire holidays in this region are independent, hassle-free and take you easily to where you want to go.

Shannon & Erne

A dream cruise in Irish waters along the country’s largest river, the Shannon, as far as the Erne.

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If you want to explore Ireland, boat hire with Locaboat is your best first step

You may not have thought about seeing Ireland from its rivers and lakes when you were looking out for holiday ideas. But it’s a trip that really captures the spirit of the age. Your traveller’s soul will fall in love with the place. You’ll be hugely impressed by the quality of our bases, our fleet of self-drive boats, which require no license to drive them, our cruise itineraries and the pure simplicity of boating holidays in the land of the Celts. Travel in the footsteps of the Vikings, who also sailed up Ireland’s rivers, and discover the Druids, poets and artists who are the tutelary deities of Ireland, a land where everything arouses passion.

Skippering your canal boat, you can get to know this unspoilt and friendly civilisation at the slow pace of your boat. Our self-drive boats are attractive, easy to steer and let you combine discovery with pleasure. The watchword here is céad míle fáilte, which literally means ‘a hundred thousand welcomes’… You’ve got it; the Irish are among the most welcoming people on the planet, something you’ll experience every day on the waterways, as well as on land. If you’ve already visited Ireland by car, don’t miss the incredible experience of a ‘road trip’ by boat. To complete the adventure, take some bikes on board from our base and you’ll be as free on land as you are on the water.

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With canal boat hire in Ireland navigate the Shannon and the Erne

Start in Dublin and boat through the many canals in Ireland

When you set off on your canal holiday in Ireland, it can be difficult to decide which is the best route. Deciding on the right route to explore the Emerald Isle will depend on a number of different things, from the direction you wish to travel, what you wish to see and how you are travelling to and from the country. One of the more obvious places to begin your boating holidays in Ireland is in its capital, Dublin. Being able to boat or fly in and out of this city makes it one of the more accessible starting points. When beginning your boating trip here, you can either make your way north or south, depending on your own preferences.

Heading north from Dublin will take you along the Royal Canal, a straight body of water that is far more structured than the Shannon. Leaving Dublin, boaters will leave the busy city canal behind and wind through the outer suburbs and eventually the countryside of the county. This is a perfect way to start your Irish adventure. One of the first settlements you reach on this leg of the journey is the town of Mullingar. Surrounded by picturesque lakes and idyllic countryside, Mullingar is the ideal stopping point.

The town of Mullingar itself is also home to a number of attractions. Including Belvedere House and Gardens. This 18th-century house is one of the best-preserved in the country and is well worth a visit when passing through.

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Settle into your picturesque canal boat holiday in Ireland

Continuing on your Ireland barge cruise, you have another choice to make: whether to travel north or south. You can make this decision when passing through the town of Carrick on Shannon. Home to a well-established canalside marina, you can even begin your Shannon River adventure with a Carrick on Shannon boat rental. Carrick on Shannon boat hire also allows you to venture south into Ireland’s interior or north as far as the UK. Travelling from this point north will take you through some of the country’s most idyllic and picturesque waterways. When boating in Ireland, you will first arrive at the breathtaking Lough Drumharlow. This lough is renowned for being a heartland of Irish wildlife and a diverse fish population.

Moving on a little further downriver, the water again expands into the two-thousand-acre Lough Key. Lough Key is a fantastic place to stop off an immerse yourself in the surrounding landscape. It is peppered with an array of different islands, some uninhabited and others settled. As these have been occupied for hundreds of years, there is even an island that is home to a folly castle, built on the now perfectly named Castle Island.

Located just south of the lough is the 800-hectare Lough Key Forest Park, a stunning naturally forested area. This forest is a fantastic area in which to stop and simply enjoy the beautiful views of the woodlands and the water. Home to a visitors centre, numerous hiking trails and a tree canopy walk, there is plenty to do at this stop along the river.

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Northerly canal boat holidays in Ireland

Following the River Shannon in a more northerly route, boaters can take a small diversion and will eventually come to Lough Allen. This lough is nestled alone between two mountain ranges, the Slieve Anierin mountain range to the east and the Arigna Hills to the west. This unique location makes Lough Allen a great place for wind sports such as windsurfing – a great alternative to canal boating if the mood takes you. One of the largest lakes in the area, the small diversion to Lough Allen is a diversion that makes canal barge holidays in Ireland worth it.

Not only is Lough Allen, a hidden paradise of water, but it is also the location of the Lough Allen Adventure Centre. This centre is the perfect place in which to enjoy kayaking, canoeing and all other types of waterside activities. The lakeside town of Drumshanbo also makes a fantastic attraction for those boating through the lake. This well-preserved Irish town is a great place to tour traditional Irish pubs and restaurants.

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Rent a canal boat in Ireland and discover what’s across the border

One of the most fantastic and inclusive things about canal holidays in Ireland is the ability to cross from one country to the next. Travelling on the Shannon River, your route will inevitably bleed from the Shannon River and into the River Erne, creating the Shannon-Erne Waterway canal. As your boat holidays take you from the Republic of Ireland to the UK’s Northern Ireland, you can cross borders of both countries and counties, from County Cavin to County Fermanagh. Navigating your canal boat rental through Ireland is even easier when boating down the narrow routes of the Shannon–Erne Waterway.

As your boat crosses these county and state boundaries, a series of locks known as the Shannon Erne waterway locks, will create a little barrier. Although there are multiple locks, even the most inexperienced boaters will not struggle here. One of the first sites you will come to is Lower Lough Erne. Connected to a larger lake system, there is both a lower and upper Lough Erne, making it one of the largest lake systems in Ireland. There is also a Locaboat base here, meaning you can begin many great canal journeys through Ireland from this very spot. Along with the idyllic nature of the loughs, Lough Erne has built up a reputation for water sports, with the World Waterski Championships being held here every year. Timing your barge trips through Ireland with this competition will add something unique to your boating holiday.

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Boating on the River Shannon Ireland heading south

Winding into Ireland’s interior

While there are many northerly and easterly routes to take through the country, travelling south into the nation’s midlands interior is just as rewarding. As you boat further south, you will eventually arrive at Lough Ree, one of the largest freshwater lakes in all of the country. This huge body of water crosses three different counties Westmeath, Longford and Roscommon, creating the perfect location for truly immersing yourself in the middle of rural Ireland. The sheer size of the lough makes Ree an impressive destination to visit, and with numerous sports dotted around the lough and lots of individual islands, there is a lot to see.

Making your way to the Lough’s most southerly point, the water pinches into a narrow gauge and continues as the River Shannon. As the river flows a few miles south, boaters will come to the town of Athlone, and again there is another reason to pull up and more your Shannon boat cruise here. The town is not far from the geographical centre of the country and is worth a little exploration on foot. Shannon cruises allow you to arrive at these canalside towns without much effort.

There is a lot to see in this humble town, from trying a local beer at Sean’s Bar, arguably one of the oldest pubs in all of Ireland, to visiting the 13th-century castle that still resides in the town.

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Further south on your Shannon boat cruise in Ireland

Taking the River Shannon south, you will eventually cross the county border into County Offaly and in taking this route, you are soaking yourself even more so into the countryside of Ireland. After a few miles of travel, holidaymakers will eventually come to the quiet riverside town of Banagher. Taking your canal boats this far south is a fantastic way to see lots of the country in one trip, yet you can also start your barge rental in Ireland from here. Even though the town of Banagher is relatively small, the Locaboat site on the river makes starting journeys here easy.

Alongside the quaintness and practicality of the town. Banagher is a great little place to get out and explore. Standing at an important crossing of the River Shannon for centuries, the town of Banagher has its fair share of history and culture to match. One of the town’s most popular attractions is Fort Eliza, a 19th-century fort constructed for defence during the Napoleonic Wars. The great location of the fort means it can be viewed from the comfort of the boat or on foot, with either option providing a different experience of the fort itself.

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Head on further to explore the Lower Shannon

Taking your boat past the shores of Banagher and Fort Eliza you will plough through Irish waters and finally come to the Lower Shannon. This area of the river route is far less travelled, yet still just appealing when it comes to its landscapes and waters. Boating your way down the County Galway/County Tipperary county borders means you will eventually arrive at Lough Derg, one of the top three largest loughs in all of Ireland. Along with exploring its sheer size, Lough Derg is also home to an array of wildlife, including a pair of the rarely seen white-tailed eagles. Following the river’s course further south, the Shannon winds into one of Ireland’s biggest cities, Limerick.

Limerick is a fantastic place to moor up and will give boaters a taste of city life again after so long travelling through the hinterlands and countryside. Limerick is a city of history, culture and good times. St John’s castle looms large on the city’s King’s Island and makes for an exceptional taste of Irish history.

Limerick’s Milk Market has become another must-see in the city. With over seventy shops and stalls to speak of, this exceptional farmers market sells goods from across county Limerick and beyond. Whether you want artisan cheeses and meats, a locally crafted ale or whiskey or simply a supply of fresh fruit, Limerick’s Milk Market is the place to be.

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Which is the right boat for your barge hire in Ireland?

Smaller vessels for couples and intimate groups

If you’re looking to take a romantic break away for two or are travelling in a smaller group, then opting for a smaller boat such as the Penichette Classiques is a great option. These smaller styled boats are ideal for manoeuvring and navigating the canals and rivers of Ireland. Similar to French canal holidays, having a smaller boat on your first boating holiday is advisable; this will allow you to drive through the waterways, even if you don’t have any previous experience.

The only downside to using such a smaller boat is the lack of overall space. Although there is plenty of space to live onboard and enjoy your boating holiday over an extended amount of time, the lack of storage space will mean fewer supplies can be taken on board. This is ok if you are only using the boat as a mere mode of transport and not a permanent home.

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Bigger boats for the whole family to explore the Emerald Isle

If you’re aiming to take an extended family group away, it is best to rent a canal boat in Ireland that has a little more space than your usual canal barge—hiring a boat such as the Pénichette Aft Deck is perfect for larger groups who wish to travel along the waterways. This sized boat is capable of accommodating four to twelve people and comes equipped with a double bed, basin, hanging space and storage.

Although these boats are far larger than other boats, their design and elegance make them just as easy to manoeuvre and drive as the smaller boats. The biggest advantage of using a boat such as the Pénichette Aft Deck is the overall space. This excess space is ideal for taking on board a larger amount of supplies and gear. This is great if you’re planning an extended trip and need to keep extra supplies on board.

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Why choose Locaboat?

Locaboat Holidays has been the industry specialist for boating holidays and waterways cruises since 1977. Inventor of the Pénichette®, Locaboat is as famous for the friendliness and quality of its customer service as for the comfort and easy handling of its boats. When you rent a boat from Locaboat, you’ll benefit from the advice of local experts who are passionate about boating and will do their utmost to make sure you enjoy a wonderful holiday.

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