Do you know there are some wonderful Irish castles to visit while on your River Shannon cruise? Castles with history, beautiful craftsmanship and gardens to walk around, all close to a marina or safe harbour.
Cruising down the river on a sunny afternoon. Is there a better way to spend your well-earned break this summer? With its lakes, serene sunsets and quiet, shady spots to rest, the River Shannon has it all. Staycations are for rediscovering Ireland, and the Shannon river cruise is an ideal one. While navigating the Shannon, why not stop off to explore a castle or two? Each one brings Ireland’s history to life for you and the family.
Let’s take a closer look at a top five of castles to visit on a Shannon river cruise.
Portumna Castle – a worthy stop
Portumna Castle History
Portumna Castle, County Galway, is a ten-minute walk along the road from Portumna Castle Harbour. You can also take the path past the old priory to the castle gates. The castle is visible from the harbour on the River Shannon, so you won’t go wrong.
The castle was built around 1618 by Richard Burke, or De Burgo, the 4th Earl of Clanrickard. It is probably one of the finest examples in Ireland of a fortified house, and was the seat of the Burke family for over 200 years. Portumna Castle’s history includes being gutted by fire in 1826, and extensive restoration works by the Irish state. Today it stands by the River Shannon as a welcoming example of past grandeur and medieval architecture.
Portumna Castle Gardens
Portumna Castle is open to the public with a café for a relaxing cup of tea and cake. In the grounds of Portumna Castle is the working Willow Maze, lined with espalier fruit trees. The restored walled kitchen garden is a delight, and is planted as originally laid out in the 17th century. You can enjoy the scent of flowers and herbs, while watching the gardeners tend to the organic vegetables and shrubs. Over 1,500 acres of woodland surround Portumna Castle, perfect for family walks and wildlife spotting.
The castle is open for visitors, and you can see prices and times here.
Birr Castle – a history of science
Next along the River Shannon is Birr Castle in County Offaly. Birr Castle is less than a quarter-hour drive from Banagher harbour marina and well worth the trip. If it’s science, wonderful gardens or astronomy that interest you, this one has it all. You can throw in plenty of history, and Ireland’s tallest treehouse, along with a meal at the castle’s café for the perfect day trip.
Birr Castle History & Science Centre
The castle’s history dates back to the 16th century, and the Parson family still maintain it as a private residence. You may take a guided tour of the castle’s interior. The Science Centre celebrates Birr Castle’s place in modern astronomy, engineering and photography. A visit to the Leviathan telescope, completed in 1845, is a must. Known as the Great Telescope, it was once the largest in the world.
Birr Castle Gardens
Taking a walk around the grounds gives you some great views of the castle. The world-renowned gardens of Birr Castle feature box hedges and plants collected over the centuries. Great oaks, birches and unusual species of beech grow in the woodlands around the castle. The Earls of Rosse stocked the formal gardens with rare species, and you won’t see their likes anywhere else in Ireland. The wildflower meadow is full of colour, and wildlife thrives around the woods and the lake.
Birr Castle organises events throughout the year. For more information and opening times see here.
Athlone Castle – right on the river
Further on your cruise along the River Shannon is Athlone and its castle is no more than a short walk from the marina. The history of Athlone Castle reflects the town’s place at the heart of Ireland and as a major crossing of the River Shannon. You will find plenty to see at Athlone Castle Visitor Centre or take the tour for the full experience.
Athlone Castle History
It was not until Anglo-Norman times that Athlone was clearly an establishing settlement based around the castle. Bishop John de Gray of Norwich, justiciar of Ireland, built the castle for King John of England. Even though the first stone castle was built in 1210, not much of this original structure remains.
While the castle today still resembles the structural elements of 1210, there have been various alterations and additions built on due to new warfare defence and attack challenges. The building suffered extensive damage during the Great Siege of Athlone in 1690 and 1691, followed by an explosion in 1697. It was rebuilt in the 18th and 19th century taking on the form that we see today.
Athlone Castle Visitor Centre
Athlone Castle Visitor Centre tells the story of settlement from the Neolithic period through Viking, and Medieval ages to modern life in Athlone. If you want to learn about the battles that shaped this historic landmark, the people who live there, the monks, kings and soldiers, then visit Athlone Castle.
Both children and adults can enjoy thrilling hands-on and fun experiences at the visitor centres 8 exhibition spaces that follow a thematic and chronological order to the history of the castle. Athlone’s history, people, battles and castle are brought to life and explored though these modern exhibitions. Interactive games and multi media displays that are child friendly, guide the visitor through the castles past and present.
Admission details and opening times to Athlone Castle can be found here.
Rindoon Castle – forgotten Ireland
Located in Roscommon and only ten minutes by boat from Athlone through Lough Ree, you will be amazed by Rindoon Castle. The Anglo-Norman castle is close to the village of Lecarrow, there is now a floating jetty where you can tie up and take the dinghy ashore.
Rindoon Castle History
Doing the Rindoon Castle and St John’s Wood walk will give you a better idea of this deserted medieval town. Rindoon is where Gaelic Ireland met the Norman colonies, and the town was an administrative centre during the 12th century. Rindoon Castle and town was abandoned after being destroyed in the Gaelic wars of the 14th century – a life of only 150 years. Being left untouched ever since, it remains as a unique example of how Irish towns once looked.
Rindoon Medieval Town Remains
Like a modern-day Camelot or Brigadoon, Rindoon lay largely forgotten until the early 2000s. Recent preservation efforts highlight the historical importance of Rindoon Castle. The remains of the medieval town wall, built by King Henry III, and the original parish church are clearly visible. Interest is growing nationally, and internationally, in this cultural treasure.
Access is allowed across private lands, and more information can be found here.
McDermott Castle – a romantic beauty
Also in County Roscommon is McDermott Castle, part of the beautiful Lough Key Forest Park. There is something romantic about any Irish castle, but McDermott Castle takes romance up another notch. Located on Castle Island and overlooking Lough Key, it is like a Disney movie set. Moylurg Tower on the mainland gives another spectacular view of the castle and lake. The castle’s stunning setting is but a starting point for its history.
McDermott Castle History
The original castle occupied the island from the 12th century and was home to the McDermott family, who once ruled the area. In the 18th century, a bolt of lightning destroyed the castle, after which the King family rebuilt it as a summer home. The Kings lived there for the next 200 years, until a fire during the Second World War, left McDermott castle as it is today.
Can you visit McDermott’s Castle?
Access to McDermott Castle is limited to one mooring point. This does not mean you should not take the time to visit McDermott Castle. You can organise a tour locally and see all that lies inside the walls. The interior of McDermott Castle has a view out over Lough Key, which you will not get anywhere else.
For more information and access to McDermott’s Castle see here.
Cruise the Shannon
A River Shannon cruise is ideal for the happy couple or family to explore what Ireland has to offer. Carrickcraft supply boats from two to ten berths and will arrange everything for you. There is no better way to see the River Shannon and explore its castles, easily planned from our Banagher and Carrick-on-Shannon marinas.
We have a full range of cruise boats and packages available. Give us a call today and get planning your cruise.
In 2012 John Verling made the career change that had been bugging him all his life: to try make a living from writing. Now he is a writer and a freelance journalist. John’s work features in national newspapers, magazines and online. He is a father of three and lives with Lisa and family in Tralee Co. Kerry.
John’s writing is at www.johnverlingwriting.com and a portfolio is at https://clippings.me/johnverling and his work for thejournal.ie is at https://www.thejournal.ie/author/john-verling/2009/
Irish Castles Image sourcing:
- Athlone Castle Pier, “Athlone Castle” by Kimberly is licensed under CC BY 2.0
- Portumna Castle Entrance, “Portumna Castle” by IrishFireside is licensed under CC BY 2.0
- Portumna Castle Gardens, “Portumna Castle” by Keith Ewing
is licensed under CC BY 2.0
- Birr Castle Exterior, “Birr Castle” by Lynn Gallagher is licensed under CC BY 2.0
- Great Leviathan Telescope, “Birr Castle Telescope” by Lynn Gallagher is licensed under CC BY 2.0
- Castle Gardens, “Birr Castle Gardens” by Wendy Cutler is licensed under CC BY 2.0
- Athlone Castle Visitor Center, “Athlone Visitors Center” by Carrol Waller is licensed under CC BY 2.0
- Exploring Athlone Castle, “Athlone Castle” by Livio Barcella is licensed under CC BY 2.0
- Rindoon Castle Lough Ree, “Safe Harbour” by Richard and Liz Collins is licensed under CC BY 2.0
- Medieval Walled Irish Town, “Rindoon Castle Medieval Walls” by Laura is licensed under CC BY 2.0
- Romantic McDermott Castle, “Castle Island” by Creg Clarke is licensed under CC BY 2.0
- Visiting McDermott Castle, “Castle McDermott” by Elena is licensed under CC BY 2.0