Floating Through the Emerald Isle

Shannon Princess brings historic Ireland to its guests

By: Jonathan Siskin

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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.

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