Farm Ireland

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Irish boating holiday the perfect way to take in sights of farming as well as helping the economy

John Shirley

I hope that you were able to take a holiday or, better still, that you have one planned to which you can still look forward. Generally, farmers are not big takers of holidays. Money is tight or there is nobody to look after the farm and livestock.

Even when they can extract themselves from the farm, it is likely to be farming related. I know farmers whose annual break is the few days at the National Ploughing Championships.

It's no bad thing that we are so interested in farming topics that even on holiday we like to talk shop and exchange the chat with other farmers.

When the average punter travels across the country he or she can certainly enjoy the scenery. Farmers too can appreciate the scenery but their real interest is in what is in the fields. An interest in farming enhances any cross country trip.

The most relaxing of all ways to view the Irish countryside is to travel on the country's waterways. In the past few days I have enjoyed a boating break on the Shannon.

One of the many blessings that came with my wife was a 21ft sailing boat that is now over 40 years old (the boat). After some hairy experiences at sea, in recent years we have settled to keeping this boat on the Shannon system. Here she can travel mostly by engine, but the lakes facilitate sailing as well.

If your desire is to get from A to B in record time stay away from the waterways. Boat cruising on Ireland's waterways is the ultimate in leisure travel and tranquility. It also affords a close up view of farming activity plus some of the country's most unique habitats. Once, when I had to travel by river from Killaloe to a farm walk in Lanesboro, Co Leitrim, it took three days for the trip.

From an agricultural perspective, working from the northern banks of Shannon Erne waterway, you start with the high quality suckler and dairy herds in Fermanagh. Next you have the drumlins and busy farmyards (and deep locks) of Cavan. Leitrim brings its mix of Angus and Continental cattle plus the woodlands and bog. This culminates in the peat burning station at Lanesboro where the warmed water from the plant leads to a bountiful supply of fish. (The same fish pattern is repeated further down river at Shannonbridge.)

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Lough Ree, bounded by Roscommon, Longford and Westmeath lies in better farming country. If you look closely in the fields around Glasson as you approach Athlone you might catch sight of the Magee herd with its super suckled calves.

South of Athlone lies the Shannon callows where herculean efforts have been made to save the corncrake. Unfortunately the Shannon summer flooding of 2009 devastated the nesting corncrakes down to one nesting pair. The annual spend of €420,000 on corncrake survival is getting better results in Donegal.

The callows are also notable for the quite large herds of grazing bullocks, many of which are slaughtered off grass every autumn. Of late some of the cattle seem to have been replaced by horses.

Continuing south along the river it opens out into Lough Derg which is surrounded by low hills. On the Tipperary side is some of the best land in the country which gives us our first sight of significant tillage crops. The Clare lakeside hinterland includes some of Ireland's remotest and least travelled woodland territory.

On our most recent trip I was amazed at the number of boat travellers that brought their dogs along. There were creatures of all shapes and sizes, some with life jackets on.

I had heard that many of the Shannon's swans had found their way to the tables of the immigrants from Eastern Europe but plenty still remain. Indeed, one afforded me the chance to improve my standing with the ISPCA.

When feeding some swans while moored at the jetty for Clonmacnoise I noticed that one was snarled with a fishing line and couldn't eat. I grabbed the fishing line with a boat hook and hauled the bird on board. The poor thing was only bones and feathers. But the fishing hook was caught on the outside of its neck and I was able to extract it plus the fishing line that it had swallowed. Back in the water and free from hindrances the swan now gobbled everything including a big cake given to it by Germans that had watched the incident from the boat beside us. I hope the bird wasn't sick from over-gorging.

As in most things the recession has reduced boating activity on the Shannon this season. The owners of the hostelries say that the crowds are only to be found at the special events and festivals along the river banks.

One owner told how he had a free-spending crowd in his bar prior to a Traveller funeral in the nearby church. The attendees promised to bring him more business after the funeral. Having decided that he had done enough business for that day he headed off leaving a message on the pub door: "As a mark of respect to the late xxxx, this premises has been closed for the rest of the day."

Try an Irish boating holiday. You'll enjoy it and it keeps the money in the country.

Indo Farming