The largest island in Lough Neagh
Ram’s Island is located approximately 1.6km off Lennymore Bay and Sandy Bay on the eastern shore of Lough Neagh. Ram’s is the largest island in Lough Neagh, nearly 1.6km long and 0.4km wide. It was possibly formed as a glacial esker. Notable features of the island include a round tower from the remains of a 1000 year old Celtic monastic settlement, and the ruins of the O’Neill family’s nineteenth century summer house.
The island was last permanently inhabited in the 1920s by the Cardwell family who were caretakers for the O’Neill’s. The remains of Cardwell’s harbour, left dry by the lowering of Lough Neagh, can be seen near the ruins of the Cardwell’s house. There are also overgrown remains of a carriageway along the elevated central spine of the island.
The origins of the island’s name are uncertain. The earliest known name was Inis-Draicrenn or Inis Darcarcrenn, but by the seventeenth century this had been anglicised to Ems or Enis Garden. The present name may have derived from the ending of the original name—‘raicrenn’— being confused in pronunciation with the Irish word ‘reithe’ meaning ‘ram’.
Further proof of ecclesiastical occupation of the site came in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries when human remains and a number of brass fastenings, probably from monks’ cloaks, were occasionally dug up in the vicinity of the round tower. Coins were also discovered, including one from the reign of Edward I.
The most obvious monastic relic is the round tower, which stands on top of a steep rise near the east shore of the island. It is constructed from small round stones, which may well have come from the island’s shores, and is 13m high, although was probably somewhat higher originally. The original doorway was about 2.4m above ground level on the south side of the tower, but a more recent one was built at ground level on the western side in the late 1960s.
In the eighteenth century Ram’s Island was owned by a fisherman named David McAreavy who sold it to Lord O’Neill for 100 guineas in 1804. When O’Neill bought the island, the site covered just over 2.4 hectares, but due to the four lowerings of the water level of Lough Neagh, the island has grown to some 16 hectares. The original waterline was protected by rocks set into the bank and can be followed around the island. Lord O’Neill built a thatched cottage in the English style on Ram’s, just below the round tower. A cottage for a caretaker was also built. A 200 year old exotic planted garden is also located in the upper part of the island.
During the second world war the island was a favourite attraction for the American Eighth Army Air Force stationed at Langford Lodge. During this period a flying boat base was also formed in Sandy Bay, and materials for the war effort were flown in daily. The first transatlantic service by PB2Y Coronado was operated by the US Navy Naval Air Transport Service from New York to Sandy Bay, via the flying boat base at Botwood, Newfoundland.
© The River Bann and Lough Neagh Association