Course of the River Shannon

J. Stirling Coyne & N. P. Willis
c. 1841
Volume II, Chapter XI-12 | Start of chapter

The capabilities of the Shannon as a medium of trade have been much discussed, and they are well developed in the following extract:—"The name of the river Shannon is familiar to the people of this kingdom; but all else concerning it is known to very few indeed. Most persons have learned from the common geographies, that in the centre of Ireland there rises a river of about the same length as the Thames, which, flowing through ten counties in a wide and fertilizing course, pours its waters into the Atlantic Ocean. The great resources and remarkable peculiarities of this river are still, however, little thought of and little understood. To those who have witnessed the eagerness with which in England the favours of nature are seized on and rendered available, and the indefatigable zeal with which her difficulties are overcome, it may well he matter of surprise that the Shannon does not enjoy the common facilities of unaided river navigation. Yet not only is this the case, but its superior adaptation and vast capabilities for all the purposes of commercial communication, are but imperfectly known to those most interested in the subject. A good deal of attention has latterly been given to the question of the improvement of the Shannon.

"Lough Allen, in the county of Leitrim, supplied by streams from the high and rugged mountains by which it is surrounded, forms the source in which the Shannon is considered to rise. The lake is about ten miles long, and is deeply imbedded in lofty hills, which contain rich and copious stores of iron and coal. Out of Lough Allen the river flows in a narrow and rather shallow and impeded channel; occasionally, however, widening into small lakes between the counties of Leitrim and Roscommon, to Savesborough, where it expands into the great Lough Allen, twenty miles long and in some parts four broad. For thirty-seven miles to Portumna, the channel is more confined; but it is still a bold and wide river. From Portumna to Killaloe, its course is through Lough Derg, the largest of the Shannon Lakes, being twenty-three miles long. At Killaloe it resumes the character of an ordinary river; but the navigation thence to Limerick is contracted and difficult. From Limerick to its mouth, the Shannon is a tideway, and appears in fact a great estuary or arm of the sea.

"From this sketch of the Shannon's course, it is manifest that it possesses characteristics altogether different from those of the chief rivers of England. Unlike the equable flow of the Thames through its confined bed, differing but little from a canal, and admitting in much of its length of tracking along its banks, the Shannon pours its waters unconstrained through a very various country: now, with many falls, hastening past its rugged and uneven shores; and now, with gentle stream, coasting the low and rich meadows, which in winter the flood overflows; sometimes with close and narrow channel, and then opening into great lakes, like inland seas, studded with islands. Towing with horses on the banks can therefore be but little employed, and steam-vessels must be used to drag the loaded boats across the numerous loughs. In one respect the Shannon is unequalled by any river that we know of. From the sea to its head, a course of two hundred and thirty-four miles, it is navigable throughout. After the removal of some obstructions, and increasing the depth of the water in a few places, a barge of fifty tons burden may pass along its entire length from Lough Allen to the Atlantic.