Shannon or Mid-West Region is a region of Ireland comprising County Clare, County Limerick and County Tipperary. With a population of 473,269 in 2016, it's one of the eight regions of Ireland for statistical and planning purposes; it's not a unit of local government. Those statisticians and planners call it "Mid-West" or more romantically "IE051 - NUTS Level III" but tourist agencies somehow prefer to call it Shannon. Actually only the lower half of the River Shannon catchment is in this region, from Lough Derg down to the tidal estuary below Limerick.
This region is part of the historic kingdom of province of Munster, which is the southwest quarter of Ireland.
|County Clare |
The east is lush lowlands, centred on Ennis, with many ruined abbeys and castles. The Atlantic coast is lined with cliffs, and to the north is the bleak plateau of The Burren.
|County Limerick |
Less scenic, but with sights such as prehistoric Lough Gur, the Foynes Flying Boat museum, and a series of castles all called Castle Desmond.
|County Tipperary |
Low-lying but ringed by hills, with major religious centres at Holycross and Cashel.
- 1 Limerick, the only city in the region, is the transport hub and has the most amenities. It's a miniature Dublin with its Georgian street-grid, and has lots to see and do.
- 2 Adare claims to be Ireland's prettiest village, but it lacks a bypass and is choked with traffic. It does have very upmarket accommodation and golf.
- 3 Ennis, the county town of Clare, is ringed by ancient abbeys, castles, and a recreated prehistoric village.
- 4 Doolin on the wild Atlantic coast is a good base for exploring The Burren.
- 5 Kilkee: Loop Head is almost as impressive as the Cliffs of Moher, yet somehow not on the tourist circuit.
- 6 Thurles has an ornate cathedral, but the big draw is Holy Cross Abbey.
- 7 Tipperary is near scenic Glen Aherlow.
- 8 Cashel has the Rock of Cashel, crowned with medieval sites.
- 1 The Burren is a bleak limestone plateau, but its unsuitability for farming has preserved many prehistoric sites.
- 2 Aran Islands are in County Galway, but geographically they're an extension of The Burren and all three can be reached from Doolin. They've many early religious sites.
- 3 Cliffs of Moher stretch south of Doolin, 214 m at their highest point, and very touristy. Go further south towards Kilconnell to have them to yourself.
This area was all part of the Kingdom of Munster, which stretched east as far as Waterford. It became christianised from the 5th century, with St Patrick one of several early missionaries. The ruling dynasties warred with each other and with the Vikings, who were eventually bested by Brian Bóru (from Killaloe) in 1014. They kept the Normans at bay but a great falling-out in the 12th century saw the kingdom split into Deasmhumhain (meaning South Munster) or Desmond, and Tuadhmhumhain (meaning North Munster) or Thomond. The English gained the upper hand under King John, but only established firm control under the 16th century Tudors, dividing the area into the present counties.
The area is mostly lowland, with small towns living on agriculture. There are many medieval abbeys (all ruined by the Dissolution and Reformation), with the big religious centre at Cashel. Castles and tower houses rear up here and there like stone fists of defiance, but were mostly smashed by Cromwell in the 17th century. The only town to develop into a big city was the port of Limerick at the mouth of the Shannon. There was little industry, and population drift away from the countryside became a desperate flood during the 19th century famines.
This means that much of the area remains scenic and unspoiled. It's easily reached from abroad and was a staging post for transatlantic flights, so "Shannon" came to mean the large airport near Limerick. Longer-range aircraft mean that travellers no longer have to set down here, but those that do and stay awhile will be well rewarded.
1 Shannon Airport (SNN IATA) near Limerick is a major portal of entry into Ireland. It has many flights from Europe, UK and the United States, with US border pre-clearance, and in summer from Toronto. The largest operators are Ryanair and Aer Lingus. There are several car rental agencies at the airport - you're likely to need a car to get around the region. The immediate surrounds of the airport are drab and industrial, but ten minutes drive gets you out of that. Bunratty has good accommodation and restaurants a few km east.
Trains run every hour or two from Dublin Heuston via Thurles to Limerick Junction, which in spite of the name is near Tipperary town. They continue south to Cork, while connecting trains run from the junction to Limerick city. There are also regular trains along the line between Limerick, Ennis and Galway.
Two branch lines have a couple of trains a day: from Waterford via Clonmel, Cahir and Tipperary town to Limerick Junction, and from Limerick city to Nenagh, Roscrea and Ballybrophy, which is on the mainline.
The major routes are:
- - N7 / M7 from Dublin (the first section to Naas is not yet upgraded to motorway) past Kildare and Portlaoise. Stay on M7 for Roscrea, Nenagh and Limerick.
- - Fork south onto M8 for Thurles, Cashel (turnoff for Tipperary), Cahir (turnoff for Clonmel), Fermoy and Cork.
- - N18 from Limerick to Shannon Airport, Ennis, Gort and Galway.
- - N20 from Cork and Mallow to Adare and Limerick.
- - N24 from Waterford to Clonmel, Cahir, Tipperary and Limerick.
- - N21 from Tralee to Adare and Limerick.
By car: you'll need one to explore the countryside. There are car rental offices at Shannon Airport and in Limerick city.
The inter-city routes described in "Get in" connect several towns in the region and are fairly reliable. All your patience will be needed if you venture onto the back-country buses, which only run two or three times a day.
By train is your best option between Thurles, Tipperary, Limerick and Ennis. It's a viable option M-Sa between Limerick, Nenagh and Roscrea, but there's only one train on Sunday.
By boat: The Shannon Ferry plies between Tarbert in County Kerry and Killimer in County Clare, both on Highway N67. It sails hourly Sept-May and every 30 min June-Aug. Fare is €20 for a standard car with all passengers, €5 for a foot-passenger, cyclist or motorbike. If you're touring the Atlantic coast, this saves a detour inland through Limerick. Watch for dolphins on the 20 min crossing.
- Castles: lots and lots and lots, though many are nowadays private mansions. Choose from the imposing (like King John’s Castle in Limerick or Castle Desmond in Adare), the Victorian mock-medieval (like Knappogue), the picturesque (like Dunguaire), the tumbledown (like Newcastle West) and the frankly kitsch - yes, that'll be Bunratty.
- Prehistoric sites: there's a remarkable collection clustered around Lough Gur in County Limerick, and another at Craggaunowen in County Clare.
- Flying Boats in the 1930s and 40s were the mainstay of transatlantic commercial aviation, so it was at Foynes on the Shannon in County Limerick that the rich and famous stepped out to the pop of flash guns.
- Natural sights: the Atlantic pounds against the Mizzen Head and the dramatic Cliffs of Moher.
- Wildlife: there's a resident pod of dolphins in the Shannon estuary.
- Play golf: lots of courses across the region. In 2026 the Ryder Cup will be hosted by Adare.
- Go to the races at Limerick, Tipperary or Thurles.
- Gaelic games: all three counties have GAA teams, and there are just over 200 club teams across the region. The GAA was founded and the games codified at Thurles.
- Watch Munster Rugby at Thomond Park, 1.5 km west of Limerick city centre.
- On the water: explore the lakes, river and coastline by canoe, kayak or SUP.
- Caves: descend into the Ailwee and Doolin caves of County Clare, and Mitchelstown Cave near Cahir.
Eat & Drink
- Limerick city has the widest selection, in all price ranges.
- Adare and Bunratty have good upscale dining, though the "medieval banquets" are more about cabaret than cuisine.
- The standout inland restaurant is Chez Hans in Cashel.
- Lots of good pubs with food especially when there's live trad music: Milltown Malbay, Lahinch and Doolin are the trad centres.
- In Fethard, McCarthy's Pub, Restaurant and Undertaker will sort you out one way or another.
- Poitín (or Potcheen) is Ireland's traditional moonshine, but it's nowadays a legal product, and distilled at Bunratty.
- As usual the main hazards are man-made - traffic, traffic, traffic! And the occasional damnfool drunk, or theft from parked cars.
- Water safety: the Atlantic has the reputation, but never underestimate the large freshwater Lough Derg. The waves can really get up, and they've had to place lifeboats for lough-users who get into difficulty.
- The obvious choice is south into County Kerry and towards Cork, or north into County Galway.
- The Wild Atlantic Way is the tourist agency's name for the coastal route all the way from Cork to County Donegal.