Travel: Cruising the Shannon is a dog's life
A travel review with a difference this week, with canine correspondent Loughie Maxwell sharing a dog's eye view of a cruise on the Shannon...
SALUTATIONS and back scratches, humans. My name's Loughie, and I'm a dog. I'm writing this instead of the Geoff Hill human because those nice other humans at Emerald Star have come up with a feast of doggy delights along the Shannon so that you can take us along rather than leaving us in kennels, hurrah.
So it's all aboard for a cruise from Portumna to Carrick-on-Shannon with the Hill human, his wife Cate, who's also a human, their friends Gerry and Paula, and my Lord and Master Keith with his fiancée Pamela. Whatever a fiancée is.
I think it means that Keith's going to live with Pamela for ever and ever so they can both look after me when I get old, which is why I love humans so much.
Although the last time we went boating, I was busy making friends with Ryan and Jason the humans at Portumna when I looked around to see that Keith had sailed off without me.
Apparently he only noticed after Gerry said: "Keith, where's Loughie?" Keith also has this really strange human habit of throwing away his tennis ball. No matter how many times I bring it back to him, he throws it away again. Weird.
Still, at least it gives me a few days away from Pamela's cat Alan, although he's not too bad. For a cat, that is.
Anyway, Keith and Pamela drove us to Portumna, and there were my old friends Jason and Ryan for lots of tail wagging, hurrah.
Even better, the Emerald Star humans had left out a bag of doggie treats, a cap and a blanket, so I curled up in the blanket and had a good chomp as the humans set sail.
First stop was Banagher, with a nice grassy spot for rolling around on and meeting other dogs while the Cate human made chicken, leek and bacon pie. Keith sneaked me a leftover bit, and it was double yum.
The humans, meanwhile, were drinking lots of the stuff they call wine, which makes them happy but talk even more nonsense than usual, which in Keith's case is saying something.
After breakfast of more treats the next morning, the humans took me for a walk past the exciting attractions of Banagher, including the billiard hall, a funeral director's which was also a coffee shop, the boxing club, a singing pub and a fairy garden.
The pub wasn't singing and there were no fairies in the garden, but I didn't care, since I was being hounded by an annoying Chihuahua.
Apparently they hunt large animals in packs in the Mexican desert. Can you imagine the embarrassment of being cornered by a bunch of rug rats covered in dralon?
I have to confess that even as a cat, Alan's right when he says: "Small yappy dogs – why?"
And then we were off again. What a fab thing to be out in the water in the sun, with the wind fluttering my ears and lots of fascinating sights and smells passing by.
Just a shame I couldn't chase all the swans, cormorants and ducks.
That evening the Gerry human made yummy curry, and Keith and I had some for breakfast the next morning. Pamela says Keith's a bit weird, but I love curry for breakfast. Actually, I love everything for breakfast, now that I think of it.
Before we had left home, I'd been standing guard against aliens and cats outside Pamela's greenhouse when she came out, tripped over me and cut her knees.
Thankfully I wasn't hurt, but at Lanesborough she and Keith went off to get some antiseptic, and when they went into the chemist's, two of the other customers said: "We're a doctor and a nurse. We'll take a look at that."
Only in Ireland, as Keith said when they came back with something called gin from the distillery next door. I imagine that's another form of antiseptic.
That day was Paula's birthday, and as the humans were drinking champagne that evening, a cheery chap arrived on another boat and said: "Geoff."
"Barry," said Geoff. "I've been telling folks for years how you went for a job interview in northern Norway in midsummer, went to bed, woke up at five to one for a 1pm interview, dressed and ran down the street in a panic, wondered why it was so quiet, then realised it was 1am."
"But that wasn't me. That was Greer," said Barry.
And so the next two days passed in a happy daze, with the humans taking me to every dog-friendly pub in the name of research, although to be honest I think everywhere in Ireland is dog-friendly.
And then we would come back to the boat and I'd fall asleep in the sun and think how happy it is to be a dog, especially surrounded by happy humans who love you as much as you love them.
THE RIVER SHANNON: A DOGGIE GUIDE
BOATERS can bring up to two dogs on board, with a pet cleaning supplement of €60 per dog per boat hire.
This part of Ireland is home to lots of dog-friendly pubs, as well as fields, gardens and walking paths around lakes to be explored.
Each boat has kitchen facilities so you can cook on board, but if you'd like to eat out, dog-friendly pubs along the River Shannon include the Blas Café, Portumna, Sean's Bar, Athlone and the Brandywell Bar, Dromod.
This summer Emerald Star is also offering free doggy treats for all bookings, and here's a list of dog-friendly places along the Shannon.
Take some time before picking up your boat from the Emerald Star base at Portumna to visit Portumna Castle. The beautiful grounds are dog-friendly although your pooch will have to wait outside if you want to go inside the castle. Blas Café in Portumna is also dog-friendly.
Lough Derg is a spectacular stretch of water and probably the best in Ireland for fishing, with bream, roach, hybrids and pike. Your dog will enjoy splashing around in the lough.
CRUISE TO ATHLONE VIA CLONMACNOISE
Discover many beautiful monuments, like the old monastery, the cathedral ruins and various temple ruins. Dogs are welcome to explore the grounds here. Then visit Athlone Castle, with a visit to the oldest pub in the world: Sean's Bar, welcoming dogs since 900 AD.
CRUISE THROUGH LANESBOROUGH AND TARMONBARRG TO DROMOD
The small village of Dromod has three lovely pubs and a restaurant, and is noted for its excellent fishing on nearby Loughs Bofin and Boderg. The Brandywell Bar welcomes dogs.
Visit the unique Costello Memorial Chapel, reputed to be the second smallest chapel in the world, erected by Edward Costello to mark his devotion to his wife, who died in 1877.
The ruins of the old Carrick Castle can be glimpsed on the Carrick Bridge. There are many lovely walks to take your dog on in Carrick, and plenty of dog-friendly pubs too.
Le Boat, Emerald Star's parent company, has cruiser holidays all over Europe and in Canada.
If you're bringing your pooch, here's its guide to doggy delight on board: emeraldstar.ie/canal-boat-hire/dog-friendly-holidays
Emerald Star parent company Le Boat has 900 cruisers on Europe and Canada's lakes, rivers and canals, including the premier Horizon 3 we were on.
It's a great and relaxing way to spend a few days with a bunch of friends – and a dog.
A seven-night self-catered cruise on the Shannon starts at €2,699 per boat, with the season running from March 14 to October 31.
For more information, visit emeraldstar.ie or call 071 962 7633.
LOUGHIE'S BOATING DIARY
8am: Woke up. Love waking up! It's my favourite thing in the world!
8.05am: Woke the humans and went to the loo! Love humans! Love going to the loo!
8.30am: Had brekkie. Love brekkie! Favourite thing in the world!
9am: Walkies! Love walkies!
And so on, all day and every day.
ALAN THE CAT'S DIARY
Day 1,236 of my captivity. The humans will pay for this. At least they've disappeared for a few days, along with that idiot dog, leaving me free to complete my plans for global domination.