Lough Neagh is situated in the centre of Northern Ireland with five of the Province’s six counties touching its shores.
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.
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.
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.
Lough Neagh 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.
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 home to the largest commercial wild eel fishery in Europe, exporting some 400 tonnes of produce a year to outlets in Billingsgate, Holland and Germany.
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.
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.
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. Lough Neagh is an important source of water for Belfast.