The Shannon Princess travels on the
Shannon River from April to October.
There is no more relaxing way to experience the Irish countryside
than aboard the Shannon Princess II. This cozy, 10-passenger barge
offers a series of six-night cruises (Sunday to Saturday) from late
April to early October along the River Shannon between the towns of
Athlone and Killaloe. The cruise offers a combination of superb
cuisine and spacious accommodations, along with visits to historic
sites and craft shops. There are also performances by local
musicians and storytellers who come onboard during one or two
nights of the cruise.
Getting to the barge was a simple, no-hassle process as it’s
just a half-hour taxi ride from Dublin International Airport to the
Aberdeen Lodge located in the city’s embassy district. There we met
the three couples who would be our fellow passengers, and at around
3 p.m. a van arrived to transport us to the harbor of Athlone a
two-hour drive from Dublin where owners Ruari and Olivia Gibbons
welcomed us aboard.
The Gibbonses handle all onboard duties with the assistance of a
hospitable crew of three young Irish women who went out of their
way to make every guest feel comfortable in our “home away from
home.” Ruari pilots the barge and is at the helm for the entire
95-mile cruise. The barge travels at a relaxing pace of 15-20 miles
each day, stopping at least once for sightseeing excursions before
anchoring for the night. The passenger- friendly barge is ideally
designed for river cruising as the low slung vessel easily
negotiates every bend in the river and smoothly maneuvers under low
bridges and into narrow locks.
While Ruari is on deck, Olivia is in the galley much of the time
concocting an astounding assortment of gourmet dishes. Trained at
Ireland’s celebrated Ballymaloe Cooking School, Olivia’s menu
included Guinness crepes with raspberries and warm champagne sauce
for breakfast; asparagus risotto with Galway Bay prawns for lunch;
and rack of lakeshore lamb with warm gooseberry and ewe’s cheese
tartlette for dinner.
As a virgin “barger” accustomed to sailing primarily on giant
mega-ships carrying upward of 2,000 passengers, I soon discovered
why cruising in a cozy, intimate vessel like the Shannon Princess
is so pleasurable. Cabins are more than adequate in size and
comfort, with large panoramic views of the countryside. Each
contains a queen-sized bed convertible into twin beds, ample
storage space and a bathroom with a shower.
After unpacking our bags, we headed upstairs to the lounge to
join our fellow passengers in a welcome glass of champagne. The
only public area inside the barge, the lounge is large enough so
that one half is set up as a living room where guests gather to
relax, chat, read and listen to music while the other half is the
dining room occupied by a table where all three meals are served.
Barging tends to attract well-
traveled, upscale professional couples ranging in age from
55-75. The passengers on our cruise were retired couples from San
Francisco, Boston and Tampa, Fla. The Shannon Princess is also a
popular charter vessel for groups of family and friends.
Our experience included shore excursions to sites of historical
interest as well as stops at several country villages and an
excursion to the bustling city of Galway. Some sites were on or
near the river, while others required a 60-to-90-minute ride in a
van that meets the barge en route. Upon arriving at each site our
group was taken on a guided tour. (Shore excursions are included in
the cruise fare.)
Two of the most intriguing places we visited were the
Clonmacnois Monastery and Birr Castle and Gardens. Located on the
river, Clonmacnois was founded in the sixth century and is one of
the most revered monastic sites in Ireland. Once a major center of
learning, the settlement gradually expanded into a cluster of stone
churches, several dwellings and a stone tower. Many well preserved
remnants of these buildings are still standing.
Another special place was Birr, the seat of the Parsons family
the earls of Rosse for 14 generations; a castle has stood on the
site since 1170. Among the Parsons’ many accomplishments was the
construction of a telescope in 1845 that attracted astronomers from
as far away as Australia. Thanks to a restoration, the telescope
operates today as it did more than 150 years ago. The Parsons were
also expert horticulturists and there are more than 1,000 species
of 394 trees and shrubs on the property’s 150 acres.
Cruises on the Shannon Princess are bookable through Go
Barging , a subsidiary of European Waterways. Fares
include accommodations, all meals aboard and onshore (there are
usually one or two meals on each cruise at restaurants in port),
open bar and shore excursions.
Commission: 10 percent.