Book Review of Paul Clements’ Shannon Country: A River Journey Through Time

Lilliput Press €15.00

In 1939, Irish travel writer Richard Hayward travelled the length of the Shannon from source to sea and his book Where The River Shannon Flows was an instant success. Eighty years later, travel writer Paul Clements decides to follow Hayward’s journey from the Shannon Pot in Cavan right down to the Atlantic. And the result is this gorgeous book. It’s exquisitely written, with passages on the landscape surrounding the magnificent waterway described in pristine detail and his curiosity about the locals in the towns and villages along the river is never forced, always interested and genuine. Clements is also at pains to depict the ways in which the surrounding countryside has changed, as well as the ways in which it hasn’t.   

References are made to Hayward’s original book throughout the text, and one quotation concerning a certain Cavan newspaper, struck this reader: “…the only newspaper printed in the county is the weekly Anglo-Celt. The only bad thing I know about that paper is the execrable local pronunciation of the word Celt with a soft C. It does violence to my ear every time a Cavan man uses such an un-Irish sound.” I have never understood why Cavan locals say “Selt” for “Celt”. Maybe they know something the rest of us don’t?

Similar little gems are scattered throughout, gently leading the reader back and forth in time between Hayward’s journey and Clements’ following in his shadow. Full of colourful characters and full of the breadth and majesty of the Shannon, this is a book written in the tradition of the great travel writers like Colin Thubron and Bruce Chatwin, possibly all the more alluring because it’s set right here, on the oul’ sod.


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