Exploring Western Lough Derg and Anticipating the Blueway

Four trips around Lough Derg have shown us that there is so much to do in the area! Ashley Park House is grateful for the cross-county collaborative to establish a Blueway along the lake, and we can’t wait for our visitors to explore the activities all around Lough Derg.

We concluded our “familiarization” trips, organized by counties Clare, Galway and Tipperary, with a visit to Mountshannon, Scarriff, and Tuamgraney. We started our day on 22nd February at the Mountshannon Harbor, where we met Gerard Madden, a local historian, who arranges tours of the Holy Island. Gerard is very well-versed in the island and its history as a monastic site dating back to the first century. Situated in a peaceful location on Lough Derg, Holy Island is the home of a round tower, grave slabs with early inscriptions, a holy well, and more. Gerard can arrange boat trips to the Island from Mountshannon Harbor so that visitors can explore the Island and learn more about this well-preserved gem of Irish history.

During our time with Gerard, we went on a walking tour of Mountshannon to learn about the history of the buildings and the town. We concluded our tour at Aistear Park, which includes a beautiful maze overlooking Lough Derg. We could have spent a long time wandering around the maze and reading about its history along the way! Aistear Park is also the site of Iniscealtra Festival of Arts during the summer.

Next we headed off to Derg Isle in Scariff — an activity center with something to offer for everyone! Our group was first greeted by warm tea, coffee, and cookies in a cozy refurbished boat that now serves as a seating area. We were then taken on a boat ride across Lough Derg (with views of a castle and the Holy Island along the way!), which was the perfect activity for a surprisingly sunny day. Though not covered, the boat was comfortable and safe, and the open air was refreshing for the ride — and made for some great photo opportunities!

Meanwhile, back on land, members of our group put their aiming skills to the test with an archery lesson. Derg Isle staff were patient and encouraging as many of us picked up a bow and arrow for the first time in years — or maybe ever! Axe and knife throwing are also available options to those looking to test their aim. Derg Isle specializes in team-building activities and also offers a climbing wall and obstacle course for groups seeking active time together— whether for a group of colleagues, hen or stag parties, or family reunions.

After an active morning, we enjoyed a filling lunch at Nuala’s Bar and Restaurant in Tuamgraney. Over lunch, we heard about the options available at An Sibin Equestrian Centre for those interested in a unique way of exploring the country between Lough Derg and the west coast. Once every week between Easter and October, An Sibin leads groups of horseback riders on trips from Mountshannon to West Clare. While this trip is for those who are confident on horseback, An Sibin also offers shorter trips along the Blueway for those looking for a smaller taste of equestrian life. There are also options for children, including donkey walking! In this unique experience, kids can see what it’s like to lead donkeys on foot. And for those looking for a half day’s experience, An Sibin offers a package of horseback riding in the morning and then afternoon sightseeing, for example, at Holy Island or the local workhouse. We recommend you book fast, because the summer is already quickly filling up!

After feeling satisfied from lunch, we made our way across the street to McKernan Woolen Mills, a local producer of Irish scarves. McKernan sells thousands of their scarves to shops around Ireland and is expanding their reach to other shops and museums around the world. Here, many of our eyes were opened for the first time to all the passion and labor that goes into knitting and weaving a scarf! Anke McKernan and her staff showed us the process for both weaving and knitting, and we were fascinated and amazed that they are able to produce such a high volume of scarves using classic techniques. Visitors can come into the shop and will be greeted by staff and offered a tour to see just how incredible this process is. We couldn’t resist coming away with a few items for ourselves!

Last, but certainly not least, we concluded our final “familiarization” trip with a visit to Wilde Irish Chocolates in Tuamgraney. As soon as you walk in the door of their facilities, the sweet and enticing aroma of chocolate is impossible to resist! We were greeted by staff who are clearly passionate about their craft and look for every opportunity to be creative in their work — which we much appreciated as we taste-tested their new flavors! Their shelves include everything from classic milk chocolate to Irish Whiskey chocolate to sweet chili lime. Visitors can walk in anytime to see how the chocolate is made and to see if Wilde Irish Chocolates needs any taste-testers at the moment. (Which, we’ve been assured, they always do!) Once again, we couldn’t walk away empty-handed, and found ourselves purchasing some of this delicious chocolate.

All of these amazing activities around the western part of Lough Derg are just a few examples of the many things available around the lake. To find out what’s available on the northern, eastern, and southern areas of Lough Derg, check out the Ashley Park House website and blog. If you’re thinking about visiting this unique area of Ireland, don’t miss these fun activities, and don’t miss an opportunity to kick up your feet at the end of a long day with a satisfying dinner and bed at Ashley Park House. Whether you’re planning a hen or stag party or a family reunion or a special getaway, there’s plenty to do in this area, and Ashley Park House is happy to accommodate your party.

Thanks a million to Counties Clare, Galway, and Tipperary for organizing four fantastic trips around Lough Derg and for all the hard work to establish the new Blueway. The Blueway launches 6th March in Killaloe and officially opens 6th April, so be sure to catch this exciting new development!