Ireland’s rivers

Ireland’s rivers are as varied as the landscape they flow through and have helped form. Each river also varies along its length; starting as fast-flowing rocky mountain brooks near upland sources in much of the country, currents gradually slow as rivers flow into the lowlands and meander lazily to the sea. The journey from source to sea is shorter for rivers in Wicklow or the mountainous West, while in the midlands, that journey is longer and more leisurely. The longest river in Ireland and Great Britain, the River Shannon, even widens at certain points into several lakes.

Ireland is home to a number truly iconic rivers, famous worldwide for their beauty, wildlife fishing and boating. For example, the River Blackwater in Munster is famous for its salmon fishing and is home to a number of historic rowing clubs at Fermoy and Cappoquin. The mighty Shannon is world-renowned as a boating, cruising and angling river, and is the ultimate destination for inland water sports in Ireland. Meanwhile, The Liffey is famous as the river on whose banks the nation’s capital was built. Each September, it hosts the famous 17 mile-long international canoe race Liffey Descent, which runs from Straffan in Kildare to Islandbridge.

The wildlife, attractions, uses and threats to our rivers vary also with the landscape they flow through.  Angling, cruising and canoeing are all popular river sports, although the way most people enjoy a local river is often by taking a simple stroll along its banks, soaking up the sights and sounds of nature.

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In addition to the role of Irish rivers in furnishing beautiful views (and habitat for a rich array of plants and animals), these waterways also provide a remarkable service to our country. Historically, rivers were used as transport routes for goods and passengers, and remain a major conduit even today – for our waste, however. All our main rivers are the final recipients of much of our domestic and industrial discharges. The quantity and regularity of these discharges and the degree to which the waste is treated prior to dumping dramatically determines the health of the affected river.

The specific problems facing Ireland’s rivers vary depending on location. Upland rivers reflect the consequences of forestry activity, while rivers running through fertile agricultural land are vulnerable to runoff from farming. Rivers located in high population areas, meanwhile, are under greater risk of pollution from human and industrial waste. All these problems and risks need to be managed via an integrated approach in order to ensure the health of all Irish rivers – and consequently the health of the wildlife and communities that depend on them. The river basin management planning process, required under EU legislation, provides exactly this system.