Documenting the hidden gems of Lough Ree
When Pat McManus was recovering from a heart attack, almost twenty years ago, he turned to the healing virtues of Lough Ree.
"I had my own business, and stress was the problem, so part of my recovery was reducing stress. I used the river and the lake, being out there in quiet places, to reduce stress," he explained.
Pat is originally from Dublin but he has been living in Athlone since 1980. His exploration of the waterways over the years - and in particular his fondness for the many peaceful 'hidden gems' on Lough Ree - recently prompted him to create a new guidebook about the lake.
The compact and user-friendly publication, 'Lough Ree: An Illustrated Guide to Tranquil Moorings' was published earlier this year. Despite there being no physical launch for the book, and news of it being largely confined to social media, Pat was taken aback by the enthusiastic response to date.
"I did it in PDF format at first, and then I said I'd get 200 copies printed to see how that goes. The uptake for the book has been amazing," he said last week.
"More than half of the books are already gone, and there's been a steady demand. I've had (orders from) Portugal, quite a few Germans, some people in the Netherlands... people who would have been here on holiday previously.
"There's quite a few sold locally as well, and a lot gone to Dublin, Clare, Tipperary, Leitrim and anywhere along the hinterland of the Shannon system. I was amazed by the amount of people who came back to me and said, 'I've been on Lough Ree for years but I didn't know about this spot'."
In the 1970s, before he lived in Athlone, Pat and his family would come to spend weekends in Hodson Bay. His connection with the waterways deepened after he moved to the Midlands, and he now lives full-time on his boat on the Shannon.
Living on the water offers many benefits. "It's convenient from my point of view, but as regards lifestyle it's just incredible. It's very peaceful, very relaxing," he said.
"I can move around from place to place, up to Lecarrow, from Hodson Bay, into Coosan Lough... particularly at this time of year I would move quite a bit into different areas between three counties, but mainly between Roscommon and Westmeath.
"Where I would go, there would be very few people, if any, in those places. The serenity and tranquility of the lake - money can't buy that. It's better than any pill!"
Outlining how the idea for the guidebook came about, Pat said it originated a decade ago when he and others involved with the Inland Waterways Association formed a group, the Charts Special Interest Group (CSIG), to begin carrying out new electronic surveying along parts of the Shannon.
"For Lough Ree, and also Lough Derg and Lough Allen, the only charts that were really available, where somebody had gone out and surveyed, were the old Admiralty charts produced by two British naval officers back in 1836.
"There were a few other attempts at doing it, but nothing really comprehensive. A lot of the charts that were produced since then basically took the admiralty chart and digitised it. They didn't go out and physically survey depths.
"So a number of us came together and delegated different areas to individuals. I started on Lough Ree, and basically we spent the next few years surveying, using electronic surveying devices.
"During this process, I discovered a lot of little bays, lovely out-of-the-way spots, and some of them not so out-of-the-way," he said.
"I thought, ok, why not catalogue all of these, put them together, and in time maybe write a book describing each of the locations and how to get to them."
Giving an example of one the places featured in the book, he mentions Gibraltar Island, not far from Coosan.
"It's in the inner lakes, well hidden, a lovely place to go in, a lovely anchorage. When you go in there you're completely secluded by reed beds. From the Coosan Road it would be only about half a kilometre, but it's a hidden oasis.
"There are a number of those around the lake, and I decided I'd catalogue them and put them into a book format. It's purely a guide. Each of the coordinates of the locations (are listed), and how to get into them safely is also marked on a chart."
There are some nice photographs – a number of which Pat took with a drone - and the book is designed with practicality in mind. Its sturdy pages are ring-bound and the front and back covers are waterproof.
"If you put it down on a wet deck the book itself is not going to get wet, so you can have it beside the wheel as you go along," he said.
Pat, who turned 70 last year, spoke to us for an article last July about his prolonged search for his family roots since he discovered many years ago that he was adopted. The search eventually led to him making contact last year with a man in Wales, Peter Williams, whom he believes may be his brother.
It was hoped that this would be confirmed through DNA testing last year, but the pandemic has delayed that process.
"I had planned to go over to Wales with the family, but Covid stopped that dead in its tracks!" said Pat.
"Until such time as Peter can do a DNA (test) we have no conclusive proof (that they're siblings). I do correspond with him, and I speak to him weekly. We would have a lot in common and we are related, but we don't know to what extent."
For now, he is looking forward to what's likely to be a busy summer on the lake. While overseas visitors will be largely absent, staycations are expected to make up the difference and Pat said he'd heard that some boat hire companies were already fully-booked for June.
With the publication of his book, those who are taking to Lough Ree in the months ahead will have a new tool to help make the most of it, but Pat added with a smile that he had used his discretion when deciding what to include.
"What I will say is that I haven't given away all of my secret spots! There are still a few spots that people aren't going to get from me!" he laughed.
* 'Lough Ree: An Illustrated Guide to Tranquil Moorings' by Pat McManus can be ordered online for €12, with post and packaging to Ireland and Europe costing €6. You can order it by paying at: PayPal.me/palajam and adding in a note with your name and address.