From Ballinamore or Carrick, you enter the majestic Shannon, Ireland's longest river and part of one of Europe's largest inland waterway cruising networks. Free of all commercial traffic and navigable for 220km, the river also passes through a number of beautiful lakes (or Loughs as they are known in Ireland) some of which are surprisingly large. All around you is the most scenic and peaceful countryside you can imagine, with numerous bird and wild life sanctuaries. In county Roscommon the charming little town of Boyle boasts the ruins of a Cistercian Abbey founded in 1161, a stunning mixture of Romanesque and Gothic styles. Further south, the town of Athlone is notable for its imposing castle which has dominated a strategic crossing ever since the 13th century. Heading north on the Shannon-Erne Waterway you reach the Erne, the second great Irish river system. This 63km long canal has been magnificently restored. With its 34 fine old bridges, it allows you to cruise through a magnificent and dramatic landscape where rivers alternate with canals and lakes studded with islands. In this truly unique mixture of peaceful untouched countryside you find villages offering a traditional welcome. Head to Ballyconnell and Belturbet, both with a strong folkloric tradition, and then onwards into County Fermanagh, a paradise for birdpotters, botanists and fishermen, and your introduction to Northern Ireland. The historic town of Enniskillen is an excellent starting point for discovering the special attractions of Ulster. Here you are at the heart of one of Europe's last unpolluted natural paradises.