Places to visit in Europe

The Shannon Region


The Shannon region, made up of counties Clare, Limerick, North Tipperary, south-west Offaly and north Kerry, is at the heart of Ireland's mid-western seaboard, and is an area of remarkable charm and diversity. Here, along Europe's most westerly coastline, an unrivalled and unspoilt seascape of cliffs, islands and golden beaches vies for attention with an inland landscape of amazing diversity : fertile lush pasturelands and gentle rolling hills give way to mountains, river valleys and woodlands, not to mention the staggering contrast between the limestone plateaux of the Burren in North Clare and the golden brown raised peat-bogs of the south midlands of Ireland. Indeed, the entire region epitomises the visual contrast for which the Shannon region is justly famous.

The geological formations of shale, limestone and sandstone provide memorable scenic views, and are at the same time home to an astonishingly diverse selection of flora. For the naturalist, the Burren, the Slieve Bloom mountains (designated an environmentally sensitive area), the Little Brosna wetlands, the callows of Clonmacnois, the Ballyhoura and Silvermines valleys, and the Clare Glens will give hours of pleasure. Not to mention the Shannon, the longest river in Ireland which winds its way majestically through the region, lending it not only its name, but its own brand of uniqueness. Within this relatively compact area, which remains firmly in touch with its past, is to be found a perfect blend of Irish culture, heritage, and spirit, and present-day influences.

The legacies of the Shannon Region are inscribed in the land throughout the region; stories in stone of the earliest stirrings of European civilisation are etched onto the landscape, from the flimsy campsites of Mesolithic Man to the tombs and settlements of later prehistoric peoples. Hundreds of megaliths and barrows, strange cooking places known as "Fulacht Fia", and hill forts, the defended homesteads of Celtic farmers, dot the countryside. The famous "Ardagh Chalice" - one of the most celebrated metal artefacts in the world - was discovered in one such fort during the last century. A product of Ireland's Golden Age when the country became known as the Island of Saints and Scholars, the Chalice was only one of the region’s numerous works of art, which also include stonework and manuscripts. Ireland, and in particular the monastic Midlands, became the cradle of European Christianity and the focus of European scholarship.

Monasteries like Clonmacnois, Inis Cealtra, Scattery Island, Killaloe and Banagher, some of which became famous places of pilgrimage, are well known to many European students. With the arrival of the French and the Anglo-Normans, castle building became common, with Limerick, Roscrea and Nenagh as fine examples. Abbeys, too, were built in new ways : The Cistercians modelled Corcomoroe and Holycross on Citeaux. The Romanesque gave way to the Gothic and the New Orders. Of particular note here are the tower houses, the castles of the resurgent Gaelic chiefs. A wide range of restored examples are open to visitors including the most famous, Thoor Ballylee, once the summer home of the poet, W.B. Yeats. European influences have always been strong on the Atlantic coast. Prehistoric pioneers probably sailed from Brittany, in France, to settle as farmers in the Burren, leaving a wonderful legacy of megalithic tombs. Scholars and students, craftsmen and monks, sailed up the Shannon to the monasteries in the bogs. Raiders from Northern Europe, who came to loot their treasure, soon became settlers and founded the first towns. The Normans fortified the land, and pilgrims travelled to and from the Continent. Sailors from the Spanish Armada floundered off Irish shores and the "Wild Geese", Irish Jacobites who migrated to the Continent after the abdication of James II, sailed from Limerick to fight other battles. Today as in the past, Ireland is proud and pleased to share a common ancestry and heritage with its European neighbours. The above are just a few examples of the diverse heritage the region has to offer. All provide significant educational opportunities in almost every area of the curriculum.

Limerick, the hub and capital of the region, and now a vibrant university city, was founded by Viking raiders in the 9th century, although tradition asserts that there were early Christian settlements here before their arrival. They sailed up the Shannon Estuary, and in the year 922, established a colony on an island in the estuary which was to grow into the city of Limerick. Later, among the principal Norman families to establish themselves in Limerick were the Fitzgeralds, the de Burgos, the de Lacys and the Fitzgibbons. The Limerick Normans built hundreds of castles and County Limerick, with over four hundred castles, has more than any other county in Ireland. They also built three large monasteries at Adare, and others at Askeaton, Kilmallock, Owney (Abington) and Limerick City. In 1197, Limerick was granted a charter by King John of England who also built a state-of-the-art royal castle in the 13th century beside Saint Mary's Cathedral which is now fully restored to its former glory. The Treaty of Limerick, signed in 1691, marked the last battles between William of Orange and James II. The city now offers an excellent base for discovering other parts of the region.

Why not participate in one of the region’s many Fleadh Cheoils (Irish Music Festivals) where traditional music, dance, story-telling and folk theatre are performed? "The Clare County Fleath" at Tulla in June, and "The Willie Clancey Summer School" in July at Miltown Malbay, are internationally renowned for their music and impromptu sessions, or you might try to catch up with "The All Irish Music Festival" which moves from location to location each year. Sporting Activities An excellent way to get to know the region is by participating in a sporting activity.

Guided walks are organised in the region and are organised by several associations, each offering its own itineries. For more serious walkers, the whole, or sections of the five "Ways" can be followed. These are: The Burren Way - 41 km., which passes by the Cliffs of Moher rising 200 metres out of the Atlantic, The Slieve Felim Way - 29 km., sign-posted and running mostly through forests, The Lough Derg Way - 38 km., which takes in the Lough Derg Lake, The Ballyhoura Way - 90 km., which follows the route of O'Sullivan Beara, the Irish Chieftain, and The Slieve Bloom Way, which is believed to be the old road from Tara to Munster. Do not undertake any of these walks without proper preparation. Maps and guides can be purchased or obtained from the Tourist Information Centres.

Cycling along traffic-free side roads and country lanes is an extremely pleasant way to explore the region. Various operators organise cycling tours and can be contacted directly.

There are numerous equestrian centres to be found which meet the requirements of both the beginner and the experienced rider.

Ireland's only known resident group of bottlenose dolphins can be observed from Carrigaholt, County Clare, situated at the mouth of the river Shannon. The dolphins can be seen by walking alongside the beach where they tend to gather, or from a boat during a 2-hour boat trip in the estuary. All trips ensure that the dolphins are watched with as little interference or disturbance as possible.