Ireland's Loughs

Ireland's Loughs

Lough Key, Co. Roscommon
There are a great many loughs throughout Ireland, some in coastal areas and many others are inland lakes, each with their own geographic character and influence on local life.

Ireland is known as the Emerald Isle for good reason. Its forty shades of green are so because the land benefits from a lot of precipitation. That isn't to say that it simply rains a lot, but when it does it soaks into the land. At one time some 20% of Ireland was covered in bogland and though only around 2000 sq km of this remain today, there is still more bogland in Ireland than any other European country. As well as bogland, there are a huge number of rivers, lakes and loughs throughout the country and these loughs have made their indelible mark on the local culture.

The largest lake in Ireland (and the British Isles) is Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland, covering 396 sq km. Legend has it the lake was created by Fionn MacCool who, while fighting with another giant, scooped up a clump of earth and hurled it at him. The earth landed in the Irish Sea, off the coast of Britain simultaneously creating Lough Neagh and the Isle of Man.

Lough Neagh borders all but one of the counties that make up Northern Ireland, counties Antrim, Down, Armagh, Tyrone and Derry, with Fermanagh being the exception. The shallow waters of Lough Neagh on the Antrim shores are home to thousands of resident and migrant birds including around 10,000 waterfowl and make up one of the major bird sites in northwest Europe. While on the opposing shores is one of Ireland's largest eel fisheries.

The second largest lake in the island of Ireland and the largest in the Republic of Ireland is Lough Corrib. Covering 200 sq km Lough Corrib is around 50km long, stretching from Galway City to neighbouring County Mayo and encompassing over 360 islands.

Lough Corrib is famous for its fly-fishing and anglers come from all over the world to fish for salmon and trout. The highlight of the season is in May, when the may fly hatches attracting fish and fishermen in their droves. The town of Oughterard is the main hub for fishing activity on the Corrib and there is plenty of accommodation and ghillies to cater for anglers.

Other visitors to Lough Corrib can enjoy cruises from Oughterard and Cong that take visitors to Inchagoill Island, the largest of the Corrib's isles. On this lonely isle, you'll find ancient remains like the Stone of Luguaedon with the oldest Christian inscriptions outside Rome, along with St Patrick's Church and the Saints' Church dating from the 9th century.

Another famous location for fishing and watersports can be found at Lough Erne in County Fermanagh. Split between the upper lake and the lower lake further north, Lough Erne forms part of an ancient water highway from Limerick to the pilgrimage of St Patrick's Purgatory in Lough Derg.

According to local legend Fermanagh was once an open plain, with a magic well in the centre. One-day two illicit lovers drank from this well and it spilled over creating Lough Erne. This is Ireland's Lakelands, an 80 km paradise for fishing and cruising with countless islands and coves to explore. The upper lake is a maze of tiny islands abundant with birdlife, while the lower lake is a vast expanse of open water, home to holy islands, with ancient artefacts. In the middle of the two is the town of Enniskillen, built around its 16th Century castle.

Another of Ireland's lakes, steeped in legend is Lough Leane beside Killarney, where according to legend underneath the shimmering waters is the Land of Tir na N'og, the land of eternal youth. Legend tells of how the great warrior Oisin was hunting in the woods beside the lake, when he saw Niamh of the Golden Hair and fell instantly in love. He went with her to Tir na N'og and lived there for many years. When he returned 300 years had passed and Niamh warned him that if he touched the land again all those years would return to him. So Oisin set off on horse back careful not to step on the ground. He discovered the land much changed, Saint Patrick was converting people to Christianity and churches were being built. Oisin came across a group of men trying to clear a boulder from the path and as one of the mighty Fianna, Oisin claimed he could move it with one hand and took up the challenge from the men. Remaining on his horse, to the wonder of the mortals Oisin began moving the huge rock with one hand. But as he did so, the stirrup on Oisin's horse broke sending Oisin falling to the ground and the mighty warrior was instantly transformed into an old man.

Today Lough Leane forms the serene centerpiece of the Killarney National Park, with a great many famous sights that make up the one of the most popular visitor attractions outside of Dublin.

As well as land locked lakes, there are a number of coastal loughs dotted around the Irish coast. Strangford Lough in County Down is joined to the sea by a narrow strait just 700 metres wide. The lough is a huge bird sanctuary for brent geese migrating from Canada and is home to large colonies of grey seals. Strangford Lough is famous for its oysters, a local delicacy. On the western shores of the lough are a number of islands made up of sunken hills or drumlins. It is believed that St Patrick landed in Ireland via Strangford Lough, on his way to converting the Irish to Christianity in the 4th century.

Another such sea water lake is Lough Hyne in West Cork. Lough Hyne is unique in Ireland as the country's only Marine Nature Reserves and is one of the most beautiful spots on the island of Ireland. Less than 2km square, Lough Hyne is one of the most important marine habitats in Europe and is home to a unique ecosystem which sustains a huge variety of marine plants and animals including 72 species of fish. This marine lake is connected to the Atlantic Ocean by a narrow tidal channel that flows from the Atlantic to fill the lough twice a day creating rapids at the channel that flow up to 16km per hour. Lough Hyne is a popular spot for diving and watersports.

Ireland's lakes play an important role in the country's geography and in the lives of those who live around them, fish in them and sail in them and present a unique experience for any vacation to Ireland.

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