Sailing into the Shannon River Estuary
The marina at Kilrush
Kilrush has so much potential
The River Shannon divides Clare from Kerry; it is Ireland’s longest and largest river. The mouth of the Shannon River is wide and inviting, stretching between Kerry Head on the South side and Loop Head on the North side. You really need time to be able to explore her lower reaches as there is little opportunity to find shelter before the town of Kilrush some 30 km up in County Clare on the North side of the River.
The Shannon is a powerboat paradise and a very popular tourist attraction for river boating. Consequently, there is a lot of information available about the River, especially from Limerick and beyond.
The lower Shannon has Ireland’s only pod of resident bottlenose dolphins. More than 100 dolphins have been identified using the Shannon estuary. The success rate of seeing dolphins here is reported to be better than 98%.
Kilrush is a small town with a great deal of potential. Its location surrounding this lovely and superbly protected natural harbour is ideal for stopovers when transiting the coast or for initiating an exploratory tour of the Shannon. Unfortunately, the Kilrush Marina and boatyard suffered for many years under the Shannon Development Corporation whose priority was Shannon Airport. There is a major plan development plan in place which could revitalize this historic town and bring major tourism potential to the area. In the meantime, improvement is taking place at a measured pace and the changes already evident under the new marina ownership are most welcome. Kilrush was even named Ireland’s Tidiest Small Town 2014.
How to get there
Approaching from the North, the distance from the sheltered harbour of Kilronan in Inishmore in the Aran Island to Loop Head is 38 miles. It is another 18 miles to Kilrush. There is little opportunity for shelter along the coast and imposing Cliffs of Moher here, and the prudent mariner should plan to complete this passage in one day.
Approaching from the South, once past the Blasket Islands, it is 36 miles to the Kerry Head and another 18 miles to Kilrush. There are several anchorages en route, but again, most choose to complete this passage in a single day.
Tides run strong even in the outer parts of the Shannon Estuary. From a point halfway between Loop and Kerry Heads to Kilrush is 18 miles (30 km), but passage rarely takes more than three hours with a fair tide and wind. There are two islands as one approaches Kilrush: Scattery Island and Hog Island. These islands provide shelter for temporary anchorage while awaiting the opening of the locked entry to the marina at Kilrush. The fairway buoy is situated in the Kilrush Channel between Hog Island and the mainland at 52.37.60 N 09.30.18 W.
The latest edition of the Irish Cruising Club’s sailing directions for the South and West Coasts is essential reading for anyone cruising this region. Large scale Admiralty charts 2254 and 2173 cover the south western and northern approaches. Admiralty Standard Chart 1819 shows Approaches to the River Shannon and Imray chart C55 covers Dingle Bay to Galway Bay. Interactive planning charts available from the Royal Western Yacht Club.
From the Atlantic to Limerick is 50 miles, but the Shannon provides passage anchorages at Kilbhaha Bay in settled weather just three miles from Loop Head and better shelter in Carrigaholt seven miles further in. Kilrush is 16 miles from Loop Head and the two islands just outside the Kilrush approach, Scattery and Hog Island, provide shelter for temporary anchorage as well as 6th century monastic ruins and well preserved round tower. The currents can be strong so be sure to pick a spot where wind against tide won't kick up a chop.
52.37.60 N, 09.30.18 W
The old port of Kilrush is home to a 120 berth marina with lock gate access to the Shannon Estuary and the Atlantic Ocean. Until recently the Marina was operated by Kilrush Creek Marina Limited, a subsidiary of Shannon Development. Thankfully, as of July 2014, it was acquired by L&M Keating (Maritime) Ltd. It was sorely in need of repair and upgrades, which are already beginning to make a difference.
The Marina offices are open daily from 0800 to 1800 and until 2130 in the summer months. The office monitors channel 80. Special arrangements can be made for later entry, tide permitting.
Currently, there is a tidal constraint on the marina access channel, allowing entry or exit only 2 hours either side of low water springs. As of autumn in 2014 they hope to have dredging complete to allow access at any time.
The marina is used as a base for day trips to Scattery Island and for Dolphin Watch cruises and is home to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, whose offices can be found on Merchant’s Quay.
The boatyard has a slipway and a 40t Travelhoist. A Master Shipwright, Stephen Morris, skilled in timber and fiberglass and trained in New Zealand is a licensed contractor and boatbuilder in the marina with an 1800 sq ft workshop. 087 7990091 / firstname.lastname@example.org
The marina also has a marine diesel fitter, steel fabricator, and marine electronics and electrical contractors.
There is a supermarket within walking distance of the marina. The town has two ironmongers (hardware stores), several pubs, and several B&Bs but only one open year round with restaurant – Crotty’s Pub. Crotty’s is a real traditional Irish pub and offers a nice menu and comfortable accommodation within walking distance of the harbour and right in the heart of the town. Shannon Airport is just 30 miles by land from Kilrush and thus provides an excellent stopover for crew changes.
Kilrush as a town has existed since the 16th century. John Ormsby Vandeleur, of Dutch origin who became the wealthiest landowner in the area, proceeded to design and develop the layout of the town in the 18th century. He built a large family home in 1808. A Scottish businessman who assisted Vandeleur developed the harbour and a shipping company that prospered with the increase in agricultural prices during the Napoleonic Wars. By 1837, Kilrush was described as a seaport, market, and post town.
However, the famine years brought hardship to Kilrush in the years 1845-49. Famine, evictions, fever and cholera, earned the Vandeleur name the reputation as the worst in the region, with over 20,000 evictions from the Kilrush Union. Kilrush survived the era and was revived as a market town with the arrival of the West Clare Railway at the end of the 19th century.
An impressive walled garden on the grounds of the old Vandeleur estate can still be visited today, though the home was destroyed by fire in the late 19th century.
The Royal Western Yacht Club has been revitalized in recent years as one of the oldest yacht clubs in the world.
What to do
Kilrush is a good base for exploring some of the most spectacular scenery in Ireland, including the Cliffs of Moher and Loop Head.
Scattery Island (Irish: Inis Cathaigh) is home to a lighthouse, a monastery ruin, and Irish Round Tower and an artillery battery. The monastery was founded by St. Senan an abbott-bishop in the early 6th century. There are the remains of an oratory, house, round tower, holy well, and six churches or chapels. The main church is Teampall Neomh Mhuire (Catherdral of Saint Mary) next to the round tower which is 120 feet tall with a door at ground level which is unusual. The settlement is fortified and marked by a lighthouse. No woman was ever allowed to enter the settlement or even land on the island. Despite this, St. Senan founded two convents, and was on a visit to the nuns of one of them when he died. There is a visitor centre near the pier which houses an exhibit about the history of the island. Tour boats operate island visits from Kilrush Marina.
The maritime opportunities available in Kilrush Creek Marina together with Kilrush town’s rich architectural and historical heritage, proximity to attractions such as Vandeleur Walled Gardens, West Clare Railway, Kilkee seaside resort, Loop Head Lighthouse and the wider attractions of West Clare, offer significant potential for exploration with the town as a base. Loop Head has been voted the Best Place to Holiday in Ireland.
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