The wide blue sparkling beauty of Lough Derg is electrifying in summer, with its hinterland of rolling green fields and birdlife that includes cormorants, swans, ducks, terns and even the white-tailed sea eagle. Butterflies, damselflies and dragonflies swirl, dive and hover over the lake's surface, while reminders of human's presence dot the shorelines and islands from castles to a 6th century monastic settlement. Lough Derg was an essential part of the water highway that reached from the Atlantic to the heart of Ireland. Today, it's no longer used for transport, but is a top destination for cruisers, boaters, walkers, hikers and watersports enthusiasts and is Ireland's quintessential "pleasure lake". Boasting over 160km of indented shoreline, it's easy to access the water here, whether you want to open swim from one of the lough's two Blue Flag beaches, paddleboard down Killaloe's serene canal, or jump on a boat tour. One thing's for sure, no matter what way you decide to go… getting out on the water is essential.
You can get a beach-fix at Lough Derg with not one but two Blue Flag beaches. Yes, the water might be chilly, but on a sunny day there's no better place to be – and wetsuits are always an option. The two beaches can be found at Ballycuggeran, just outside Killaloe, and at Mountshannon, and are lifeguard patrolled during the summer season. You can also dip your toes, and more, into the water at the Portumna Bathing Area, about 1.5km outside town, which also boasts a Blue Flag, as well as grassy relaxation areas and benches.
Explore the Blueway
With over 13,000 hectares of silky blue waters to explore, the Lough Derg Blueway is one of the island's finest recreational areas boasting countless trails to enjoy by canoe, paddle board and boat (as well as walking and cycling trails). There are 21 easy-to-follow paddling journeys around the shoreline of the lough, past crumbling castle ruins, pretty little bays, reed beds, fens and wet woodland.
Lake and River Cruises
There are lots of cruises you can take on Lough Derg, but one of the more popular is the Killaloe River Cruises, with two luxury boats, the Spirit of Killaloe and the Spirit of Lough Derg. The tours run daily along the Shannon and Lough Derg, with an engaging commentary that will keep you enlightened about the sights and waterscapes that you pass. For something a little different, the Lough Gin Cruise is a great option and boasts a gin masterclass hosted by West Cork Distillers.
It might not look like much from the shore, but Inis Cealtra is one of the most famous monastic sites in Ireland, with a round tower, six church ruins, a holy well, a graveyard and even a "bargaining stone" over which marriages would have been arranged. A place of pilgrimage until the 19th century, the site is associated with the 6th century Saint Caimin and was torched by the Vikings in 836 and 922. Jump on a boat trip from Mountshannon Pier with local historian Gerard Madden and the fascinating history of this compelling place will be illuminated to the full.
Lough Derg Water Sports
There are camps and courses, trips and tours and groups and parties are catered for, too – you'll find it all at this great watersports centre at Kilgarvain Quay, Brockagh. The guided tours are great fun and perfect for anyone new to kayaking. The summer Paddle Picnics are particularly popular and there are events on throughout the year, too.
Killaloe's glassy canal is the perfect spot to embark on a stand up paddleboarding lesson and SUP Killaloe offers lessons from Monday to Sunday at 10am and 1pm. All equipment is provided, including wetsuits that are available for rent for 5. Once you've mastered the basic skills, you can opt for a tour of the lake, which goes beyond the canal into the open water. Tours are around two hours long and are best booked in advance.