|Shannon Harbour is unique. A purpose built village, it was designed, constructed and operated as a trans shipping centre. Situated on the Grand Canal at its terminus where it joins the Shannon at the mouth of the Brosna river. Shannon Harbour was original, a town constructed to meet the requirements of accommodation and storage of its lifeblood, the Grand Canal.
Built in 1830, Shannon Harbour was once a thriving and vital place. Over 250,000 people used the canal passenger barges, many of them to emigrate from Limerick and Cobh, to America, Canada and Australia. In one year in the 1840’s, 300,000 tons of produce was transhipped in Shannon Harbour’s ware-houses. The village boasted a bonded warehouse, a customs and excise post, a large Royal Irish Constabulary barracks complete with holding cells, the Harbour Masters house, boat and barge repair dockyard and drydocks, a small school, several taverns, a smithy and livery, many cottages and of course the standard Grand Hotel. At its peak over 1,000 people lived in Shannon Harbour and its hinterland. Today less than 30 people live in the village.
The great stonemasons of the 19th century knew their trade well. The stone buildings they built remain with the exception of the Customs House and the main warehouses. The Grand Hotel now roofless stands proudly, looking down on a harbour which is busy again but with a different purpose. Home to over 100 private boats, barges and watercraft, the village while still sleepy, has lifeblood in its veins again thanks to an upsurge in water based tourism and leisure activities.
The village has returned to life in recent years attracting visitors from all over the world for a myriad of reasons. Excellent course fishing facilities in a central location attract fishermen and women from Britain and main-land Europe.It is a birdwatchers paradise with many rare birds visiting and thriving in the Shannon Callows. Bullock Island only a short walk from the 36th or lower lock is the last bastion of the endangered corncrake, once one of the most common European birds.
The callows of Shannon Harbour are now part of a special conservation area. This is an endeavour to preserve not only the fauna but also the unique flora of the callows.Environmentalists have been enthralled by the variety of plants in the mature meadows, preserved by the eco friendly agri practice of Shannon Harbour farmers.
Shannnon Harbour today is best noted for the safe haven it provides for its pleasure boats from the floods of the Shannon and wintery winds. Known as a secure place to berth, it is also attracting visitors who like nothing better than to walk by the tranquil waters of the Grand Canal and fill their lungs with fresh clean air. Twinned with Braunston Harbour,England, the ‘Harbour’ has a laid back and relaxed atmosphere.
The area that the village of Shannon Harbour was built in is known as the townland of Clononeybeg or in Gaelic ‘Cluain Uaine Beag’ which roughly translated means the small enclosed meadow area of the intended for deputy) one. This is a direct link to Clononey Castle, the 15th century stronghold of the MacCoghlan Clann which is situated a little over a mile from the village. This castle which is in good condition was one of nine that the MacCoghlans owned and second only to their main castle at Garrycastle outside Banagher which is now sadly no longer standing. A cousin of Anne Boleyn is buried in the castle yard. An earlier building than the castle is the old monastery of Saint Saran situated at Tissaran, Moystown just across the river Brosna. A 6th century headstone from the adjoining cemetery is to be found in High Srreet Church, Belmont. Many victims of the “Gorta Mor” the Great Famine were buried in Tissaran and some indeed were known to be buried in a field known as San Kill or Old Church in the townland of Clononeybeg. At a time when the canal was at it busiest, shipping thousands of tons of grain, people were starving watching the grain go to export.
Less than 15 minutes drive from Clonmacnoise and a similar distance from Birr, Shannon Harbour is between Banagher and Shannonbridge on the river Shannon. There are three pubs, a shop and a Post Office, plenty of seats and picnic benches or the Bog Rail Tour is 10 minutes drive. There are numerous tourist facilities within the locality.