If you want to travel from Killimer in Co Clare, on the north side of the Shannon Estuary, to Tarbert in Co Kerry, on the south side, and if you want to do it by land, through Limerick, the AA reckons that you’ll have to travel 88.80 miles and that it will take you two hours and twelve minutes.
Here is the central section of the Shannon Estuary, as shown on the Ordnance Survey map of around 1840 (by kind permission). The ferry runs from Killimer to Tarbert; I’ve also shown the towns of Kilrush, Co Clare, and Ballylongford, Co Kerry.
And I’ve shown where some of the Napoleonic-era forts were. There were six of them altogether, as well as an earthenwork redoubt on Foynes Island (further upstream, ie off to the right of the map segment above). Five of the six stone forts were D-shaped, and three of them (Scattery, Carrig Island and Kilkerin) are shown above: each of them mounted six guns. There were two more forts further downstream, a six-gun at Kilcredaun Point near Carrigaholt and a four-gun at Doonaha, between there and Kilrush. The sixth fort, the only pentagon, was on Tarbert Island, and mounted seven guns, capable of reaching the far side of the estuary. The strong currents of the Tarbert Race, between Tarbert and Kilkerin, provided a further obstacle to any invading force, but as far as I know the guns were never fired in anger.
The ferry terminal at Killimer is at the point where a small quay is shown on the 1840 map; the terminal at Tarbert is alongside a quay that had no 1840 ancestor.
The map makes it plain that Tarbert is actually an island; the town is further south, at the edge of shallow water. The Tarbert Roads, east of the island, provided a sheltered anchorage, but there was no ship-size pier or quay until 1842.
The ShannonFerry Group has two ferries, Shannon Breeze and Shannon Dolphin; both are in use in high season, but outside that one is usually enough.
Here are some photos of one of the ferries approaching Killimer.
What you see in the background is the oil-fired power station at Tarbert: sadly, it is built on top of the fort. It was bought from the ESB by Endesa (as was Great Island) and it was to be converted to run on gas rather than oil; Endesa says it’s not selling the plant, although the Irish Times disagrees.
On the ferry
On the ferry, you can climb up to the observation decks for a good view of the estuary (one person has to stay with the car until the fare has been collected).
On leaving Killimer, you may see the second ferry tied up in the shelter of the pier.
If you look up to your left, you may see the relatively featureless expanse of Clonderalaw Bay(where the small harbour of Knock is).
This was once the source of great wealth because salmon, swimming along the north shore of the estuary, often went into Clonderalaw Bay instead of through Tarbert Race and up to Limerick. After the Scotch Weir (stake net) came into use, Clonderalaw Bay was said to be “so crowded with weirs that they looked like a grove of trees” [Evidence of W J Ffennell, Esq, in Report from the Select Committee on Fisheries (Ireland); together with the proceedings of the Committee, Minutes of Evidence, and Appendix. Ordered, by The House of Commons, to be printed, 20 July 1849].
Also on your left you’ll see the solid grey block of Kilkerin fort.
Here is the Ordnance Survey (~1840) map:
If you can tell me what an Ordnance Stone is, do please leave a Comment below. Such stones are marked on all the estuary forts.
The other thing to note near Kilkerin is the electricity cables coming ashore from Tarbert.
Looking to your right, towards the Atlantic, you’ll see Moneypoint, the ESB coal-fired generating station built near an old quarry.
Here is a ship discharging coal at Moneypoint, for which Shannon Foynes Port Company is the port authority.
But the views of Tarbert itself are the most interesting.
Finally, here’s the ferry Shannon Breeze coming in to Tarbert.