Fermanagh Lakes

Christine Crawford visits beautiful Lough Erne

The allure of the magnificient lakes of county Fermanagh lies in their wealth of untouched natural beauty and 70 km of crystal clear waters which captivate and enchant people around the world. This idyllic south-west region of Northern Ireland is surely one of Europe's best kept secrets.

Lough Erne offers a piece of paradise for not only the people of Fermanagh, but for the countless varieties of wildlife, from swans and sand pipers to garden warblers and nightjars to the countless fish types of the Lough . For the rest of us, there is the beautiful scenery, nevermind  the opportunity to enjoy unrestricted boating, cruising and water sports along Lough Erne and the Shannon-Erne Waterway Canal -the longest navigable waterway in Europe.

Appearances can be deceiving, as in the midst of all the peace and tranquility of sleepy, beautiful Fermanagh and the sedate shores of Lough Erne, there is the thriving water sports industry where the waterski-ing world cup recently took place on Lough Erne in September 2005. The Lakeland Forum in Enniskillen hosted the event for the first time to more than 50 of the worlds top water-skiiers from 16 different countries. Now, proposals are being made to hold a number of the 2012 London Olympics events in Fermanagh, where some of the watersports will take place on Lough Erne.

‘The Fermanagh economy would get great knock-on business from the Olympics,’said Chris Scott, Share Centre marketing officer. There are numerous watersports centres along the waterway including the Share Centre which offers various water based activities from sailing and canoeing to kayaking and water skiing and is located on the shores of Upper Lough Erne, four miles from the villages of Lisnaskea and Derrylin. ‘It is a great way to get out on the lake and enjoy it,’ said Scott.

The beautiful Erne is geographically divided into two and cascades through two channels. Lower Lough Erne, which is north of the county town of Enniskillen and Upper Lough Erne which is south of the town. The Erne makes its way from each end of county Fernanagh in style, running into a huge island studded lake where the ancient town of Enniskillen stands, ‘Enniskillen is known as the island town,’ said Teresa Burns, marketing executive at Fermangh Lakelands Tourism. The town itself is built on an island at the narrowing of the lough, Burns adds, ‘it is a beautiful central point between the two halves of the lake. You have to cross a bridge to get into the city and then you see a beautiful castle right on the lake.’

The origins of the island town of Enniskillen go back to prehistory, when this short nexus was the main highway between Ulster and Connaught. Enniskillen castle was the medieval seat of the Maguires, chieftains of Fermanagh, who policed the Lough with a private navy of 1500 boats.

There are 154 islands to explore on the Erne. Lower Lough Erne contains a number of holy islands including Devenish Island which holds one of the finest monastic sites in Northern Ireland. Here lies a 12 century round tower, once an important port of call from which the monks would stand watch for approaching enemies. When strangers approached they rang the tower bells to alert the monks to hide their sacred relics. The island also has a tiny church of about the same date and holds the ruins of an Augustinian abbey. Also of interest on the Erne is Boa island, where two ancient pagan stone janus idols dated from the first century stand tall and harking back to a time before Christianity was brought to the region.

Fish abound in the lakelands with shoals of eels and rudd to roach and perch which naturally makes fishing a very popular activity for both the locals and visitors alike. The Fermanagh lakes hold many coarse angling match records and are world renowned for winter roach and pike fishing. The Erne System is the finest natural course fishery in Europe. The River Finn enters the Erne about 6.5 km outside Clones and the maze of interconnected lakes that make up the patchwork of fermanagh lakes are only a short drive away making the area one of best bream fishing stretches in Ireland. Lough Melvin is famous for its abundance of spring salmon and unusual types of trout.

Fishing in the region was revitalized with the reopening of the old Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal which now links the Shannon and the Erne to form the Shannon-Erne Waterway canal. The waterway weaves together the streams, rivers and lakes dotted picturesquely between Leitrim and Fermanagh. The rivers path winds through wild unspoiled countryside in a sight of absolute natural beauty passing under 34 stone bridges and 16 locks. The unspoiled beauty is remarkable, in that there are no large cities or major industrial sites creating unsightly eyesores along the course of the canal. Reed banks thrive in the lakes and hedgerows parcel the peaceful green fields, providing refuge for a great variety of wildlife and for anyone seeking tranquility.

As a result of the Fermanagh lakes' uniquely unspoiled natural beauty, the region has been targeted by the Green Box initiative. This initiative supports nature based activities and learning for visitors to the area. Burns said, ‘The Fermanagh Lakeland is set to become the first Eco-tourism destination.’ She added, ‘we encourage an eco-friendly type of travel, responsible travel to natural areas that concern the environment and sustain the well-being of the local people.’ The Western Development Commission commissions and supports this type of rural development in an endeavour to aid the region's economy.