When I originally set up this website, the main reason behind it was to provide a place to post a run report for my Fastest Known Time attempt on the Royal Canal. In preparation for that I fell down a rabbit hole of information about the Royal Canal and came out an Irish Inland Waterways enthusiast. So not long after finishing the run I set about writing section-by-section guides to the Royal Canal with the intention of doing the same for the Grand Canal.
I managed to post up two descriptive guides in Autumn 2019 detailing what side of the canal to be on and what type of surface those travelling the Grand Canal Way can expect, the first being Grand Canal Docks to the Edenderry Branch and the other from Edenderry Branch to Tullamore. Unfortunately it took a lot longer than planned to finally cover the last section from Tullamore to Shannon Harbour where the Grand Canal meets the River Shannon. I will soon be posting a far more descriptive piece about this area but for those looking for a quick guide for the last 36km of the Main Line please read on.
We start where I finished in my last post on the north bank of the Grand Canal at Kilbeggan Bridge in the centre of Tullamore. Moving along the path for 400m, passing the old bonded warehouse on the opposite bank, we come to Cox’s Bridge and the 27th Lock.
From here there is a dedicated Greenway with a smooth surface for 3.5km continuing on the north bank as far out as Ballycowan Bridge and the 29th Lock.
We must cross over Ballycowan Bridge to the south bank but the good news is that this is the last time we are required to cross the canal and the we remain on the south bank for the last 31km to the River Shannon.
The surface after crossing Ballycowan Bridge to the south bank remains smooth but is more similar to the dust covering of the Royal Canal Greenway rather than tarmac which has we had for several kilometres either side of Tullamore.
Once you leave Tullamore, you truly enter a wonderful rural green corridor along the canal with few places to stop for supplies. The first opportunity is at Rahan, about 8km west of Tullamore.
It is important to be mindful however, that the Grand Canal Way can be a shared space and a road like surface is likely a sign that it is to allow for local access to houses and farms along the canal so don’t be surprised if you see the occasional car or tractor and be aware that one may come up behind you.
Probably the most accessible rest stop and conveniently located halfway between Tullamore and Shannon Harbour is The Pull Inn in Pollagh. The pub can be reached by crossing over Plunkett Bridge by the church and coming back on yourself on the north bank.
With Pollagh behind the next landmark is the old Bord Na Móna Light Railway Swivel Bridge, 4km on, the railway runs to the now closed West Offaly Power Station at Shannonbridge. These railways criss cross the bogs of Ireland and while the turf burning stations are mostly finished producing energy, many of the railways remain. Just before reaching the swivel bridge the Offaly Way joins the Grand Canal Way coming from Lough Boora Discovery Park to the south.
The surface becomes softer the further west you go, not long after the swivel bridge we come to Derry Bridge where the surface is a decent soft stone, ideal for running or cycling on, but with grass growing in the middle. I would recommend anyone cycling west of this point though to have at least a durable tire and spare tube and a mountain bike would be best.
Not long after Derry Bridge, the surface turns to a grass trail. I undertook my trip on the June Bank Holiday weekend when the ground was dry and was recently cut so it is maintained and pleasant to travel on. The grass continues for several kilometres as we move towards Belmont.
Passing the wonderful built heritage at Belmont we return to a hardened surface for the remaining 6km to the 36th Lock at Shannon Harbour. On the way we descend down the 34th Lock and before long are greeted by the sight of leisure boats moored up before the village. If you look closely you may even come across an original trading boat of the Grand Canal Company, often denoted by a number and the letter ‘M’ (Motor), though occasionally you will also see an ‘E’ (Engineering) or ‘B’ (Bye-trader). These boats make up a large number of the Heritage Boat Fleet.
Coming into Shannon Harbour itself you will pass by Griffith Bridge, McIntyre’s Pub, the ruins of the Grand Hotel, the Harbour Master’s House (now a B&B) as well as the dry dock before reaching the last two locks, the 35th and the 36th Lock where the canal meets the Shannon.
If you have made it this far I salute you and heartily recommend retracing your steps back to McIntyre’s for a well earned pint and a bit of pub grub!