The river Shannon – an income stream struggling to recover from coronavirus

‘The excess for the summer keeps us going through the winter, and that’s gone now’

Barbara Smyth's family has run Silver Line Cruisers from its base on the river Shannon in Banagher, Co Offaly, for nearly 50 years. There have been good times and bad, but few periods have been like the last few months.

Silver Line is now the only Irish-owned cruiser company operating on the Shannon. The 12-week closure ordered due to the Covid-19 restrictions cost it some 2,500 customers and the majority of its annual income.

In normal times Silver Line cruisers is booked out from Easter on, with its season running from mid-March to October. This year everything along the Shannon – restaurants, pubs, and touring companies – had to close, just like the cruise firm.

However, a few signs of sunshine are starting to emerge, and Silver Line now has all of its 40 cruisers rented. “Everyone is upbeat and positive looking forward to their holiday and exploring,” said Smyth.


The firm was started by her father in the early 1970s with just rowing boats. Usually 70 per cent of its business comes from Germany, Austrian or Switzerland, yet this year the Irish trade is key.

Smyth said customers were there as Shannon cruising is “ideal in the current situation because people are self-contained and semi-isolated out on the water”.

She said the company’s 10 full-time staff and 20 part-timers were all back at work, but everyone on the Shannon, not just Silver Line, was praying for a benign and busy September and October.

Stephen Conlon, director of the Irish Boat Rental Association, said there were nearly 18,000 rented cruisers on the Shannon last year, and this year gives "the opportunity to grow" the domestic market.

He said so far domestic trade had risen by 20 per cent, but “it is not going to recoup money lost from overseas visitors”, adding that some 630 overseas clients were yet to cancel their bookings.

Water trails

The Shannon is the key ingredient in Fáilte Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands campaign, the lesser-known sister of the already hugely-successful Atlantic Way. In 2018, 885,000 tourists visited, some 433,000 of them from abroad.

Even though it still attracts a minority of Ireland's tourist traffic, the Blueways, a network of water trails run by Waterways Ireland, has brought significant numbers to towns such as Portumna, Terryglass and Garrykennedy.

The effects of Covid-19 are heavily felt by Paddy's Bar in Terryglass, Co Tipperary. "In a village with two pubs, tourism is our business here. The excess for the summer keeps us going through the winter, and that's gone now," said Maireád Tierney, the bar owner.

It's devastating to think nearly 70% of the yearly income is lost

Paddy’s Bar, owned by Tierney since 2006, in a popular stop for holidaymakers cruising on Lough Derg, and these tourists account for 75 per cent of its sales.

The pub has seen challenges before – the no-smoking ban, the recession – “but this has been the biggest change”, said Tierney. “On Sunday, March 15th, I cried because I could not believe we were closing. It wasn’t the money, but the people and staff.”

The 200-year-old pub has reopened, serving food, though the safety guidelines, complete with PPE, are challenging in a pub that relies on its friendly charm.

“I’m going to have to financially review my business to continue into the winter. Our business is made off the boats, and the six weeks left of summer is not enough,” she told The Irish Times last week.

Becky McKenna, the owner of Lough Derg Water Sports at Kilgarvan Quay in Co Tipperary, has thrown everything she can into offering children’s summer camps in a bid to save what she can from the season.

Her centre usually opens in Easter. This year it did so on May 27th, but with limited numbers. Normally it would have two 20-strong groups, plus private tours. Initially this year groups were kept to just four, but that has now risen to 15. She is handling just one group a day now instead of two.

“Social distancing with kids is really hard,” said McKenna, who has bought more wet-suits and supplies of PPE to stay within sanitation regulations. “Parents want to get their children out of the house after so long and back into nature.”


Dick Ridge, owner of Podumna Village in Portumna, Co Galway, said his "glamping" business lost "two-thirds" of its income because of the closure, but was now seeing a "lift in sales because people are not going overseas".

Preparing to reopen on June 29th, Ridge was nervous. A wedding had been put off, 10 hen parties had been cancelled. “It was heart-breaking,” he said, but booking have risen steadily since then.

Dave Price, whose Fish Tracker Ireland business in Carrick-On-Shannon, Co Leitrim, has brought clients to "secret" locations for coarse angling business, said his trade had been "destroyed" this year.

Last year he branched out, getting LEADER funding for tours on the Shannon. With the sudden lockdown, Price said he now had “no business at all”.

“It’s devastating to think nearly 70 per cent of the yearly income is lost.”

The business was able to open in June, but foreign clients worry “about how they will be welcomed into the country when more restrictions are lifted”.

Some 60 per cent of his clients are foreign, mostly British.

He said there was an appetite for fishing holidays in Ireland. Last week six Chinese tourists came from Dublin and wanted to learn how to fish.

“It’s impossible to social distance on a boat,” he admitted