Thursday, 12 July 2012 1:05 PM
One of the best ways to see any country is to hire a boat and explore your surroundings at a leisurely pace. Ireland is the perfect destination for this type of holiday, especially if you choose to sail along the River Shannon.
There are many potential stops along the waterway; here are our picks of some of the best ones to consider for your own itinerary.
This town's name means 'landing place of the oak tree' and is one of the most picturesque destinations you'll encounter on your break. This is a popular starting point for many Irish boating holidays heading north or south along the Shannon.
Things to see here include the 17th-century Portumna Castle, which was partially destroyed in a fire in 1816, but is currently undergoing renovation works to restore it to its former glory. Its beautiful gardens are well worth exploring; they form part of the Lough Derg Garden Trail that stretches for 35 km from Portumna to Ballina-Killaloe.
Visitors can indulge in a variety of activities in Portumna, including fishing, golf, cycling and hiking along the Hymany Way.
Sail south from Portumna and you'll come to the linked towns of Ballina and Killaloe, which are situated on opposite sides of the River Shannon and are connected via a stone arch bridge.
Visit Killaloe and you'll be able to take in sights like the 12th-century St Flannan's Oratory - built in the Romanesque style - as well as a monastery and a fort that was the seat of one of Ireland's most famous kings, Brian Boru.
Ballina is home to some fascinating church ruins on Birdhill Road. The building was originally erected in the 12th century and designed in a similar style to St Flannan's Oratory on the other side of the river, but fell into ruin not long after being rebuilt in the 15th century.
Located north of Portumna, Shannonbridge in County Offaly has a long history as a crucial river crossing and is now a picturesque village that attracts keen fishermen and holidaymakers alike.
One of the main points of interest here is Clonmacnoise, where you'll find the remains of a monastery established by St Ciaran during the 6th century. You can still see the remnants of two round towers, a cathedral, three high crosses and a visitor centre offering more information on the history of the site.
Wildlife lovers will want to head to the Shannon Callows, an expanse of wet grassland where plenty of wild birds can be spotted, along with foxes, ferret minks and otters.
Lanesborough is another destination perfect for those with a passion for fishing. While it's known for being the home of the first turf-fired generator in the country, the plant has created a local warming effect that has attracted roach, tench and bream to the area, as well as pike, eels and perch.
The best places to fish include Lough Forbes, close to where the Camlin and Feorish rivers join the Shannon. This lake is more than 1.5 km wide and 3 km long, offering plenty of great fishing opportunities in scenic surroundings.
Located on the River Erne, Belturbet is a great base from which to explore the Shannon-Erne Canal. Local sights of note include Turbet Island, on which you'll see the remains of a castle thought to have been one of the first settlements in the area.
Belturbet Station is also well worth a visit if you have an interest in the railways. The 19th-century structure has been fully restored and is home to an exhibition that aims to explain the history of the rail industry in County Cavan.
There are many pursuits you can indulge in if you fancy getting active. The local golf club and fishing centre should be the first ports of call for golfers and anglers respectively, while local operators offer bike tours that are a great way to see something of the region.
Named after St Ciaran, this town has a few places of interest for holidaymakers mooring up here. One of the top attractions is Friars Island, which you can access via a causeway from the mainland. The island served as a place of safety for Franciscans fleeing from Athlone when the Penal Laws imposed by England came into force.
Alternatively, you can see some amazing views by heading to Glasson via the high road and stopping to gaze at the magnificent sight of Lough Ree and the Inner Lakes. There's a picnic area here if you want to stop for a while to appreciate your surroundings.