"Go Big 'Oar' Go Home - From Drumshanbo to Carrick-On-Shannon, by board, bike or on foot - Leitrim is ideal for exploring the heartlands", writes Audrey Kane (The Sunday World)
Like many others, this is my second staycation in Ireland since the pandemic began. And do you know what - this may be slightly controversial - I actually don't mind.
While there's no denying guaranteed sunshine every morning would be an added bonus, I'm exploring what's basically on my own doorstep and finding we're really at the top of our game during a crisis.
As part of my trip, I was invited along to lovely Leitrim. From food to art, castles by the sea and endless water activities, here are some of the best things I found to do.
1. Leitrim Surf Company
When your day begins by paddling down the River Shannon, well, you know life ain't so bad. Lee Guckian, who runs the company specialising in stand-up paddle-boarding safaris on the Shannon Blueway, was our guide for the two-hour trip.
Dubbed 'Drumshamazon', we took a sheltered route where the scenery is Amazonian and also secluded enough so you don't have anyone laughing at you as you try to get onto the board, never mind stand up.
It has to be one of the most fun ways to spend a morning, trying out new skills and seeing the country from a different view - sometimes from the board and sometimes from the water. It was something I never thought I'd enjoy and I felt almost zen-like floating along... until I hit the water. But even this didn't dampen my spirits as I simply (with the help of Lee) got back on board and paddled my way to shore. This adventure will be on my highlight reel of holiday memories for a long time to come.
After my Shannon baptism, it was time for a different kind of SUP-ing at The Shed Distillery. The tour is really enjoyable and capped off with a tasting. The staff's knowledge and pride in the place shines through, and while it's fascinating learning the process of distilling their Drumshanbo Gunpowder Gin, Sausage Tree Vodka and Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey, it's even better tasting it. The Jackalope café and gift shop are also open on site.
3. The Landmark 4-Star Hotel
Situated on the banks of the river Shannon in the picturesque town of Carrick-on -Shannon, the hotel couldn't be any more central. So, after a long day SUP-ing and supping, it was time to check in. The hotel has quite a grand feeling as soon as you enter, and arriving at our Landmark Suite, with panoramic river views and graceful furnishings, we were suitably impressed.
There are a number of dining options inside and outside, including the
Boardwalk Restaurant and Bar, where we ate that night. We opted for a sharing charcuterie tray and were completely blown away by the feast for just €32 followed by Toblerone cheesecake, €7.95 - which we also shared (reluctantly on my part). Oh, and a cheeky Mojito to help the food go down.
From front-of-house to the restaurant staff, they are all super friendly and make you feel really at home and welcome in their town, and it's definitely one to put on your radar for either dinner, accommodation or both.
4. Glencar Waterfall
Remembered in WB Yeats' poem The Stolen Child, Glencar Waterfall is a must. This enchanting waterfall is located near Glencar Lough and you can grab yourself a cup of coffee in the little café near the car park and take the short stroll up to the 50ft waterfall where you can listen to the water crashing down. It is particularly impressive after heavy rainfall - which is not hard to come by on an Irish holiday.
5. The Dock & Leitrim Design House
leitrimdesignhouse.ie & thedock.ie
Our next stop took us to the Leitrim Design House, located in The Dock - a beautiful 19th-century courthouse building in the heart of Carrick-On-Shannon. The gallery and shop represents over 250 designers, makers and artists working in the creative sector. The gallery also features cutting-edge exhibits. A great opportunity to support Ireland's creative industry.
6. Costello Memorial Chapel
Main Street, Townparks, Carrick-On-Shannon
It would be so easy to walk past this charming little chapel, but it's so worth stopping to see this monument to love. The Costello Chapel was built by local merchant Edward Costello after the death of his wife, Mary, coffins on full view beneath a stained glass window.
7. Floating Boardwalk
Acres Lake in Drumshanbo
In the picturesque village of Drumshanbo, you'll find the start of a 6.5km linear walking and cycling trail along the Shannon Blueway. You can soak up the stunning scenery before heading out to dinner.
8. The Red Bank Restaurant
Like most restaurants, The Red Bank has adapted well to the pandemic and continues to offer an outside dining option with its dome venue. They are set-up well for the ever-changing Irish weather - providing shade from the sun and shelter from the rain.
The food and service are exceptional and the prices are very reasonable for the quality of the ingredients. For starters, I had seared scallops, kataifi prawn and Andarl Farm pork belly, while main was a mouth-watering 12-hour braised beef feather blade with wild mushrooms and rich port jus.
To round it off, because, well, it would be rude not to, dessert was Chocolate Calypso, coming to a total of ¤40 for one. All nicely washed down with a bottle of Chateau Haut Blanville 2018 Merlot for ¤29 - which I shared (once again, reluctantly) with my other half.
9. 17th century Parke's Castle
Stately and stunning, this former plantation still stands from the 17th century and was home to the English captain Robert Parke. Situated on the banks of Lough Gill, the house isn't open due to restrictions, but you can still walk around the grounds, and it offers amazing views around the lake.
10. Strokestown Park House
On our way home, we stopped off at Strokestown Park House which is situated within the small, pretty town of the same name. There lies this magnificent Georgian Palladian 19th-century mansion, preserved with its original furnishings and fabrics.
The house is undergoing redevelopment so no tours are available, but you can still wander around the six-acre walled gardens and woodlands. You can also enjoy a coffee and a slice of cake sitting in one of their new outdoor dining pods. Their new National Famine Museum will open in 2022.
11. Ardcarne Garden Centre
While in Roscommon, our final stop was lunch. Everything about this café is wonderful, from the friendly and helpful staff to the wholesome and healthy food - watermelon and feta cheese. We ate outside in the garden centre surrounded by nature. Not a bad way to finish off a holiday.