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travel: VIKING TRAIL; ANCIENT TRIBES USED THE SHANNON TO INFILTRATE THE HEART OF IRELAND. MELISSA KEARNEY FINDS TODAY'S SAILORS HAVE MORE GENTEEL THINGS ON THEIR MIND.

RELAND'S rich culture and heritage is the result of successive migrations and invasions stretching back over millennia. There was the mythical Fir Bolg, the Tuatha de Dannan (people of the dawn), the Celts and many others besides, each adding their own individuality and culture.

Among the more colourful visitors to Ireland's shores were the Vikings. The fierce warriors from Scandinavia terrorised much of northern Europe for some three centuries, but also left their own indelible legacy on the countries they visited.

They left the Norwegian fjords in search of plunder and they found it in plentiful supply in Ireland's early Christian monastic settlements. Indeed, the tall round towers to be found in the remains of many of these settlements are a direct result of Viking visits.

One of the favoured routes of these expert seamen was the River Shannon - the longest river in either Britain or Ireland. This mighty waterway stretches all the wav from its estuarv on the west coast to its source in County Cavan in the north east. Today it is connected to Lough Erne in Northern Ireland through a recently refurbished canal system.

They sailed up the river sacking villages and monasteries on the way - among them Clonmacnoise, an early Christian site founded by Saint Ciaran in the sixth century, on the banks of the River Shannon. The site is one of the highlights of any visit to Ireland and includes the ruins of a cathedral, eight churches (ioth-i3th century), two round towers, three high crosses and a large collection of early Christian grave slabs.

There is probably no better way to enjoy Ireland's most picturesque golf courses than by boat. You can hire a cruiser, live on board and cruise the waters of the Shannon and its beautiful lakes, stopping off from time to time at the many wonderful pubs and restaurants that dot its shores and taking time out to play a few rounds of golf.

Starting just west of the city of Limerick, Kilrush Golf Club has sometimes been called the friendliest golf club in Ireland.

Moving unriver the East Clare Golf Club is set in 150 acres of unspoilt countryside with majestic views of East Clare. The course hosted the 1998 West of Ireland Seniors Championship.

Slightly further upriver, Clonlara Golf Course offers a real family experience. This beautiful parkland course is situated by the banks of the Shannon. Facilities include self catering apartments, bar, tennis court, sauna, games room, anglers bait and stock room.

Moving further north, Portumna Golf Club is one of the hidden gems of Irish golf. It is a beautiful parkland course that sweeps its way through forest and woodlands close to Lough Derg, the largest lake on the River Shannon.

The historic town of Athlone is commonly held to be the centre point of the island of Ireland and for centuries was a major strategic military and trading centre. Athlone Golf Club was founded in 1892. It is a parkland course, surrounded by Lough Ree on three sides, yet close to the bustling town of Athlone.

Just across the lake is Glasson Golf Hotel and Country Club that offers a sublime setting, a very interesting and challenging course, and a four star hotel with top quality leisure facilities and fine dining.

Why not complete your tour with a visit to Ballinamore Golf Club in county Leitrim. This newly-designed course is situated alongside the Shannon Erne Waterway and facilities include bar and light refreshments.

Finally, if it's value you're looking for, it's hard to beat these courses with most of them charging green fees of pounds 20 (EUR30) on weekdays.

For further details on these courses or holidays on the Shannon visit www.discoverireland.com or www.ireland.ie/golf, or call Tourism Ireland on 0800 039 7000

CAPTION(S):

Golf course like Glasson (inset) and ruins like these at Clonmacnoise are what bring people to the Shannon and its banks these days
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 17, 2007
Words:655
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