Banagher is a town at the western edge of County Offaly on the banks of the River Shannon. In Irish it's Beannchar na Sionna, "the place of the pointed rocks on the Shannon" - the river is shallow so it can be forded and is less flood-prone, but it's a block to navigation. An ancient settlement at the ford grew in the 19th century when the Grand Canal linked cross-country all the way from Dublin, and the shallows were bypassed by a lock system. Banagher was then an important inland port, but it and the waterways declined with the advent of the railways. In the late 20th century the waterways were refurbished for pleasure craft, and this is the main reason to visit.
Banagher in 2016 had a population of 1760, so it's the largest of a scattering of villages east of the river. These include Shannon Harbour, Cloghan, Ferbane and Shannonbridge, all described on this page.
Clonmacnoise is the must-see monastic complex north of Shannonbridge, but this extensive site is described separately.
Kearns Bus 845 / 847 runs once in the morning from Portumna to 1 Banagher, Birr, Tullamore and Dublin, returning in the afternoon, and with a second run on Sunday. It makes several stops in Dublin including Heuston station but not Busáras. The bus stop in Banagher is at the junction of Main St and Harbour Rd.
By road from Dublin follow M4 / M6 to Kilbeggan then R436 through Clara and Ferbane.
Banagher, Shannon Harbour and Shannonbridge are on the river, which is navigable throughout from Limerick to Athlone and Carrick-on-Shannon, and linked by canals to Dublin, Carlow, Waterford and Enniskillen. Check Waterways Ireland for current status of locks, moorings and so on.
You need your own wheels to get around this scattered district. A bike would do.
Bear in mind that the only bridges across the Shannon hereabouts are at Portumna, Banagher, Shannonbridge, then away north at Athlone.
- 1 Shannon Harbour is where the Grand Canal meets the Shannon, with scenic old bridges, wharves and locks.
- 2 Clononey Castle is a sturdy tower house built in the 1490s. Henry VIII awarded it to Thomas Boleyn, and in return got to marry his daughter Anne - it was this that led to Henry's break with the Roman Catholic church. Two ladies of the Boleyn family are buried here. The castle is open summer weekends 12:00-17:00, donation.
- 3 Shannonbridge: the main sight is the bridge itself, built in 1757. It's narrow, with one-way traffic signal-controlled. On the west bank in County Roscommon is the Napoleonic-era Fort, just in case Boney tried to invade by riverboat. A little further west is the Romanian Orthodox Monastery of the Life-Giving Spring, in cabins that look like Butlins; you can attend services.
- 4 Clonfert Cathedral. 12th century church on the site of a monastery founded in 563 AD, reputedly by St Brendan the Navigator. (Or as the Ulster Annals would have you believe: "and on this day Cluain Ferta Brénainn was founded at the order of an angel.") It's still in occasional use as a C of I (Anglican) church. The interior is richly, indeed wackily, decorated.
- Our Lady of Clonfert RC Church, a mile south of the cathedral, has a 14th C wooden Madonna and Child. By the church is a 16th C tower house.
- 5 Meelick on the west (Galway) bank has the oldest active RC church in Ireland, from 1414 and originally part of a Franciscan abbey. Burke Castle just north remains only as an earthwork. On the Offaly bank, Victoria Locks lift boats 2.4 m past the river shallows. A Martello tower stands guard on a river island.
- 6 Gallen Abbey in Ferbane is the crumbling remnant of a 12th century Augustinian priory. It's now within the grounds of a nursing home.
- 7 Coole Castle is a tower house built in 1575 which in no way resembles the fine mansion of that name in Enniskillen.
- 8 Lemanaghan is the northern terminus of the Offaly Way, see below. The remains of the medieval monastery are free to stroll, 24 hours.
- 9 Clonmacnoise is the area's star attraction, a medieval monastery complex. See separate page, but that village is short of accommodation and you're more likely to stay in the Banagher area.
- Boating on the Shannon and canal: you can hire for extended trips or day excursions. Shannonbridge is the main base, where operators and agencies include Cruise Ireland, Silver Line Cruisers and Locaboat. There are limits on how far a rented boat may be taken, so save Graignamanagh for another trip.
- Golf: Birr Golf Club is the closest, on R439 south of Banagher.
- The Clonmacnoise and West Offaly Railway was scrapped in 2008. It was a 3-foot (914 mm) gauge railway for hauling peat, with a fan of tracks across the bog converging on Shannonbridge power station. Later it morphed into a tourist ride, with peat-burning depicted as part of the mystical Celtic yah-di-yah. As a cottage fuel maybe, but peat-burning on an industrial scale was horribly polluting, and the extraction of this non-renewable resource ruined the bog eco-system. There are no plans to restore the railway.
- Ferbane has an ATM and a Centra, open daily 08:00-20:00. And that's about it for retail hereabouts. How's your fuel gauge?
- Banagher places are Crank Road Restaurant and Angelo's.
- Ferbane has Beijing Garden and Henessey's; Black Boot Restaurant has closed.
- Luker's Bar, Main St, Shannonbridge, ☏ . F 17:00-01:00, Sa Su 12:30-00:00. Lively bar with good filling food, often has trad music.
- JJ Hough's Singing Pub on Main Street Banagher is open daily 12:00-01:00.
- McIntyre's is the village pub in Shannon Harbour.
- Dúthracar, a Maic Dé bí, a Rí suthain sen, bothán deirrit díthraba, command sí mo threb
- "I wish, O Son of the living God, eternal ancient King, for a hidden little hut in the wilderness, that it might be my dwelling"
- - attributed to St Manchan (d 664), who found this area short of accommodation.
- Charlotte's Way, Birr Rd, Banagher R42 RY82, ☏ . As in Charlotte Brontë, who came to Banagher in 1854 on honeymoon with Arthur Bell Nicholls. She soon became pregnant and died in Haworth of what was stated as TB but was probably extreme morning sickness, hyperemesis gravidarum. Nicholls eventually returned to live here in Banagher. The B&B, in a carefully refurbished Georgian rectory, gets great reviews. B&B double €90.
- Dun Cromain, Crank Rd, Banagher R42 X576, ☏ . Friendly B&B opposite Fort Eliza, dogs welcome.
- Ely House B&B is in Shannonbridge at the road junction.
- Harbour Master's House is a B&B on the canal bank in Shannon Harbour.
- Consider staying in Ballinasloe, County Galway, if you can't get fixed up east of the river.
As of April 2021, there is a 5G signal with Three in Banagher, Cloghan and Ferbane, with 4G in Shannonbridge. Eir has a mobile signal throughout, with 4G in Cloghan and Ferbane. Vodafone has 4G in Ferbane but nothing beyond.
- Birr is a small Georgian town with a Victorian telescope that for 70 years was at the leading edge of astronomy.
- Athlone, also on the Shannon, has a fine cathedral and castle.
- Portumna has a Jacobean bling-mansion. This part of County Galway is pastoral and low-lying, quite unlike the rugged Atlantic coast.