In the heart of Northern Ireland you will find Lough Neagh. The name means the Lough of the horse-god Eochu. He was the lord of the underworld, who was supposed to exist beneath its waters. To this day fishermen can hear booming noises called water guns which are associated with whirlwinds on the surface of the water but others say it is the horse god galloping to the underworld. Legend has it that Lough Neagh was created by the Irish Giant Finn McCool who scooped out the Lough basin to toss it at a Scottish rival that was fleeing Ulster by way of the Giants Causeway. The piece of land fell into the Irish Channel and formed the Isle of Man. Scientists tell us that the Lough was formed in the early Tertiary period when a fault line occurred and an area of land sunk thus allowing it to fill with water and create Lough Neagh.
Lough Neagh is the biggest Lough in the British Isles measuring over 300 square km’s. It contains over 800 billion gallons of water, enough to fill 7 million swimming pools and captivates visitors with its tranquil atmosphere, un-spoilt scenery, secluded bays and skyward views. Six major rivers flow into the Lough and one flows out (the River Bann) and they collectively drain more than 1/3 of Northern Ireland’s water and it is an important source of water for Belfast. The level of the Lough has been lowered on 4 occasions, the first in 1846 and the last in 1959 and the water levels are now managed by large flood gates at Toome. It was historically a major economic hub transporting linen, timber, coal, and livestock via the canals; Lagan, Ulster, Newry and Coalisland. Proposals to restore the Ulster Canal are now in the pipeline with the intention of connecting Lough Neagh to Lough Erne and the rest of the Inland waterways in Ireland. Lough Neagh is home to the largest commercial wild eel fishery in Europe, exporting some 650 tonnes of produce a year to outlets in Billingsgate, Holland and Germany. 1.7 million Tons of sand is extracted from Lough Neagh annually and supplies 1/4 of all local construction industry in Northern Ireland. Sand from Lough Neagh was used to build the hallowed surface of Croke Park and the mortar in Stormont.
Lough Neagh is a haven for wildlife with many viewpoints around the shoreline. It attracts bird watchers from all over the world due to the number and variety of birds which winter and summer in its shores. Over 100,000 wintering wildfowl fly in from places as far away as Canada, Iceland, Greenland and the Russian Arctic. One of the most majestic of these birds is the whooper swan which flies in from Iceland to feed over the winter. The eels in Lough Neagh travel over 4000 miles to breed in the Sargasso Sea and the young fry return by drifting on the Gulf Stream back over the Atlantic and enter the River Bann as young elvers. The Lough also has its own unique species of fish, such as the Dollaghan which is a huge Trout and Pollan which is a small freshwater type of Herring.