Waterway Walks
Index of Walks – Athlone to Portumna 

Walks from Athlone to Portumna in downstream sequence:

Adjacent Waterways . . 
    Upstream . . 
         Lough Ree 
         The Grand Canal 
    Downstream . . 
         Lough Derg

This section of the navigation is known as the Callows. It provokes the most varied reactions. For many first time visitors it is the most boring part of the Shannon. For those who take a little time to learn about its ecology, geography and history, it is the most fascinating part of the river. If you want to begin to understand the Callows you can do no better than read Delany 1987 Chapters 6 and 7 and Heery 1993.

Visitors to the Callows might like to add to the interest of visiting this section of the waterway by considering:

  1. There is a significant number of major fortifications along the river between Athlone and Portumna. Why were they put there?
  2. The Callows is a place of enormous interest to naturalists. It is also a place where the farming community adopt special farming practices on account of the severe winter flooding that regularly occurs and to help conserve the valuable wildlife heritage of the region. As you explore see how much you can discover of the ecology and farming practices of the Callows.

Ordnance Survey of Ireland, Discovery Series 1:50,000
– Map 47, Cribby Islands, Lough Ree to below Shannonbridge
– Map 53, Shannon Harbour to Illaunmore on Lough Derg

The Connaught Walk

* *

3 km; 0.75 hrs; Start: Map 47 N038417
On roads. Tourist trail. Guidebook adds a lot of interest.
This tourist trail walk is described in detail in O’Brien 1991. A copy may be available at the Tourist Office in the Castle.

Starting at the jetty just above the Bridge of Athlone on the Leinster side:

  • Cross the Bridge of Athlone and visit the Castle.
  • Leave the Castle and proceed north along the river passing the Church of SS. Peter and Paul, the town library, a memorial to John McCormack, Costume Barracks, and Athlone Boat Club.
  • Proceed under the impressive railway bridge, follow the road round to the left, pass the old railway station and continue to the traffic lights.
  • Turn left into Magazine Road. The road runs parallel to the disused canal that was used prior to completion of the works necessary to route the navigation along the main river channel. At Battery Bridge take the left fork and proceed along Connaught Street.
  • Continue along O’Connell Street and Chapel Street passing the Dean Crowe Memorial Hall on the right. Just after the hall turn left into Excise Street. At the end of Excise Street follow the road left into Fry place, the centre of Athlone’s Left Bank district. Take the first turn right and walk to the river.
  • Turn left and proceed back to the jetty.

Athlone Castle

The Leinster Walk

* *

2 km; 0.5 hrs; Start: Map 47 N038417
On roads. Tourist trail. Guidebook adds a lot of interest.
This tourist trail walk is described in detail in O’Brien 1991. A copy may be available at the Tourist Office in the Castle.

Starting at the jetty just above the Bridge of Athlone on the Leinster side:

  • Leave the jetty and turn right on Abbey Road. Continue to Northgate Street and turn right towards the center of the town. Walking up Northgate street take a short detour along Lucas Court to remains of the old town wall.
  • Return to Northgate Street and continue towards the center of the town turning left into Court Devinish to the Jacobean house known as Court Devinish. Continue along Court Devinish to Church Street.
  • Proceed diagonally right across Church Street and walk to the quay downstream from the Bridge of Athlone.
  • Proceed along the quay to Friary Lane. Walk up the lane past the Friary, a most attractive church.
  • At the top of Friary Lane, across Church Street, is St. Mary’s Church (Church of Ireland). Turn right and walk to Athlone’s second St. Mary’s Church (Roman Catholic) exploring The Bawn on the way.
  • After visiting the church, retrace your steps about 100 meters and turn right into Garden Vale. Follow the road to the railway station taking the left fork at the roundabout.
  • Continue past the station back to Northgate Street and return to the jetty.
* * *

2 km; 0.5 hrs; Start: Map 47 N007307
On paths and roads. One of Ireland’s finest historic ecclesiastical sites.
Clonmacnoise is one of Ireland’s finest ecclesiastical sites. The heritage center is well worth a visit and guided tours are available. The two kilometer walk involves walking from the jetty to the heritage center, past the ruined cathedral and on to the Nuns’ Church about 0.5 km along the Pilgrims Road.

On the way back consider taking a short diversion to visit the ruins of the Anglo-Norman castle. These are clearly visible from the path between the jetty and the heritage center.

Further information about Clonmacnoise is available at:


Norman Castle at Clonmacnoise

Clonmacnoise and West Offaly Railway
* * *

8 km; 3 hrs plus; Start: Map 47 M967254
On busy roads. Includes conducted rail tour of Blackwater bog.
The Callows is set in the midst of extensive tracts of raised bog lands. These are mostly managed on a commercial basis by Bord na Mona. To learn more about Irish raised bogs, walk to the Clonmacnoise and West Offaly Railway terminus at N002251, about four kilometers from Shannonbridge along a busy road, and take the conducted rail tour of Blackwater Bog. Alternatively, take a taxi to the railway.

The signposts to the railway are rather confusing. There seems to be some disagreement between the local signpost authority and Bord na Mona regarding the name of the railway. The signs point the way to the Blackwater Railway. Follow the signs as far as the junction at M985245 which is just beyond the bridge over the bog railway. Turn left and, using the map as a guide, follow the narrow country road to the railway named the Clonmacnoise and West Offaly Railway by Bord na Mona. Following the signs beyond the junction at M985245 takes one to the railway on a longer route and on busier roads.

Check at Shannonbridge about the railway timetable before setting out (Phone: (0905) 74114 or 74172 or 74121) or drop into the Shannonbridge Tourist Office (Phone: 0905-74344).

Suggestions for other walks from Shannonbridge are provided within Other suggestions below. Some of these are on the ‘to be researched’ list.

* * * *
5 km; 1.25 hrs; Start: Map 47 M983225
On roads across bogs. Historic ecclesiastical site. Post-war home of Oswald Mosley.
This gentle walk is a hidden jewel ignored by the vast majority of visitors to the Shannon.
Visit Clonfert Own Page
Ballinasloe Line
* *

 4 km plus; 1 hr plus; Start: Map 53 N019185
Along disused canal bank through bog land and above Callows.
A good walk for individuals interested in views of the Callows and of Ireland’s extensive bog lands. The start of this walk is at Fanning’s Lock the disused first lock of the Ballinasloe Canal. The Canal was abandoned in 1961. In 1987 Ruth Delany wrote “A delightfully quiet mooring can still be found in the entrance to the Ballinasloe Canal” (Delany 1987 Page 133). In May 2001 we took Zillah (Draught approximately 0.9 metres) into the cut. On that occasion the minimum depth under the keel was 0.4 metres. We moored alongside a rusty but robust floating jetty close to the entrance to the lock. We did not attempt to take Zillah into the lock. An alternate to mooring in the cut is to moor at Shannon Harbour below 36th Lock (N025187) and use a dingy to get to Fanning’s Lock.

From Fanning’s Lock proceed along the path of the disused canal. For most a walk of about two kilometers along the bank of the disused canal and the bog railway will provide ample opportunity to view the Callows and see aspects of how the turf is harvested from the bog. This walk is at its best on a bright fresh day in early summer when the wild flowers are in full bloom in the Callow meadows and the ground is dry underfoot.

Fanning’s Lock at the entrance to Ballinasloe Canal

Zillah moored in cut to Fanning’s Lock

Callows at Shannon Harbour
* *

4 km; 1 hr; Start: Map 53 N024187
On road and tracks, by canal and river, and through Callow meadows. Historic.
Shannon Harbour is a very interesting place. Today the harbour and adjacent canal provide a popular mooring place for private boats. A great variety of cruisers and barges is to be found here. There is also considerable interest for historians as Shannon Harbour is where the Grand Canal meets the Shannon. Consequently it was a very important place when the canals were used for commercial purposes. The shell of the Grand Canal Company Hotel and other remains of the commercial canal age are to be seen by the harbour.

This walk starts at the jetty just below the 36th lock (N024187). From the quay follow the track to the bridge at N033190. Turn right and follow the road to the track at N031179. Turn right onto the track. Those with an interest in dismantled railways may wish to turn left off the track and take the short walk through the meadow to the bridge over the disused railway (N031177). [At Banagher it is possible to walk another section of the path of the dismantled railway.] Having viewed the bridge, return to the track and follow it to the bungalow at N021186. If you do not have permission to visit the bungalow, pass through the gate to the right just before the bungalow and walk the short distance to the river bank. Turn right and follow the bank back to the starting point.

The walk follows tracks through Callow meadows. It can be extended by following the track beginning at N025182 to the southern end of Bullock Island. This is a very pleasant walk on a summer afternoon. Do not stray from the track as Bullock Island is an important conservation area.

Looking west across the Shannon from the bungalow to Fanning’s Lock it is possible to see the remains of the chain winch used to pull the ferry back and forth across the river. When we last visited the remains were to be seen on both banks.

From the bungalow at N021186, it is a short walk back to the jetty below 36th lock.

Approaching Shannon Harbour

* * *

1 km plus; 0.25 hr plus; Start: Map 53 N007158
On footpaths and the path of a dismantled railway. A number of short walks to places of historical and literary interest.
For years we passed through Banagher without realising the depth of the town’s historical heritage. When we visited the town in 2000 a problem with an alternator presented the opportunity to spend some time exploring the town. A day of discovery followed. Visit the page.
Visit Walk Own Page
* * *

Start: Map 53 M953143
A number of short walks to places of historical interest.
Meelick is a fascinating place. Most cruisers pass through Victoria Lock totally unaware of the history of Meelick and the interesting places to visit. Take a morning out, moor the cruiser at the quay on the western bank above the sluices (M952142), be prepared to use the dingy keeping well clear of the sluices – the current can be strong at this point, and explore:

  • Keelogue Battery, across the river from the quay (M953143).
  • Hamilton Lock (disused) at (M952131), a short walk from Victoria Lock. The walk crosses sluices on the east side of Incherky. A brief look at the map will identify a circular walk to the east of Hamilton Lock.
  • Martello Tower on the island to the west of the canal leading to Victoria Lock (M947134). The Martello tower is unusual in being cam shaped. The roof is designed to support three artillery guns.
  • See also the Banagher to Meelick walk mentioned under ‘Other Suggestions’.

Meelick Sluices

Martello Tower at Meelick

Meelick to Portumna
* *

17 km; 4.25 hrs;
Start: Map 53 M952142 or M869046
On paths of varying quality. Fine riverside walk in remote countryside.
This walk is along an embankment that runs from Meelick to Portumna. It is a fine walk for individuals who want a peaceful walk in remote countryside. For details see:

Fewer, Michael. 1997. Irish Waterside Walks. Gill & Macmillan
See Walk 30, Meelick to Portumna.

Other suggestions:

The Batteries at Shannonbridge. A short walk across the bridge at Shannonbridge from the village to the west bank takes one to an impressive example of artillery fortifications of the early nineteenth century. They are described in Delany 1987 on pages 125 to 128.

Other walks at Shannonbridge:

The walk to the Clonmacnoise and West Offaly Railway described earlier on this page also commences at Shannonbridge.

Shannonbridge is surrounded by a number of extensive areas of bogland. These are managed by Bord na Mona. A quick look at Ordnance Survey Map 47 will suggest an out and back walk starting by walking along the R357 to the west of Shannonbridge.

There are a number of other potentially very interesting walking routes starting at Shannonbridge. One walk has been omitted from the list because when we last walked it (Summer 2000) a number of stiles were poorly maintained and some were obstructed by barbed wire. On that occasion, a beautiful summer afternoon, we followed the river-bank path, crossing the stiles with difficulty, and wended our way to Cappaleitrim. From there we followed the road to Cornaveagh. We then walked beside the bog railway following it to where it joins the R357. Turning left, we followed the road back to Shannonbridge and some welcome refreshments. This is a delightful and very interesting Callows walk that incorporates river-bank scenery, Callow meadows, rural roads, low hills, and an extensive area of bogland worked by Bord na Mona. It is a pity that the poorly maintained stiles discourage walkers.

There is a road heading north-east from The Batteries. The ‘to be researched list’ includes walking that road and assessing the prospect of walking to Cappaleitrim from the end of the road.

Other walks are omitted because when we last enquired the bridges used by the bog railway were not open to the public.

Hopefully the situation will improve in the future. Ask at the Shannonbridge tourist office for up-to-date information about walks in the vicinity.

Ballinasloe. In August 1999 Jim Murray sent an e-mail with the following suggestion for a half-day research project:

    • “As you know, the Rally went up the Suck to below the newly-constructed lock last weekend. We were taxied/bussed into Ballinasloe for various activities. The road (2.25 mls) goes away from line of river. I did most of the river walk (about 1.5 mls.) to the town. It’s informal but well served by stiles over fences/ditches. As a matter of interest, the river above the lock is already marked with about 12 new perches.

It strikes me that a very nice circular route could be achieved going up the river and back down by the derelict canal, provided one could cut back across to the lock. Hope it could be checked by someone.”

Comments please to webmaster@iwai.ie.

Banagher to Meelick (Victoria Lock). Surplus crew might enjoy the walk from Banagher (N006158) to Victoria Lock (M947130) at Meelick, a distance of about 8 km. The route is obvious from the map.

Bog Workings

Bog Workings

Shannon Bridge