IT is the largest lake in the UK and Ireland and finally Lough Neagh is to get the recognition it deserves when it is promoted across the world as a must-see tourist destination.
For the first time the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) has officially pinpointed the Lough as one of Northern Ireland’s best visitor attractions and along with Tourism Ireland will this year promote the area’s unique heritage in countries as far as America and Australia.
The news is welcome boost for campaigners who have fought for years to have the Lough Neagh ‘eco-treasure’ officially recognised in the tourism world.
Bordering five of the six counties and touching seven council areas, the freshwater lough is not only the largest lake in the British Isles but the third biggest in Europe, and is the second most visited tourist attraction in the province.
Those at the Lough Neagh Partnership have realised its potential for years - the tranquil atmosphere, the unspoilt scenery, the secluded bays and the skyward views make Lough Neagh one of best reasons to visit the Island of Ireland as a whole.
Set up in the absence of a statutory body with a whole lough development as a remit, the Lough Neagh Partnership is made up of delegates from local authorities, community organisations as well as stakeholders with a particular interest in the area.
The organisation also has responsibility for the spending of the £3.2 million Lough Neagh Strategic Fund, provided under the EU Programme for Building Sustainable Prosperity and administered by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
The group has funded over 130 projects, ranging from local tourist enterprises, such as the Maid of Antrim boat right up to promoting sporting and cultural activities in Ballyronan Marina.
Lough Neagh Partnership also supports the development of sustainable tourism and recreation, as well as building Lough Neagh as a brand and promoting and marketing its self and it’s surrounding area.
Despite the lough being deemed of similar ecological importance to that of the Florida Everglades and its increasing visitor numbers, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) had not previously listed the area as a Signature Project.
But now it will take centre stage with the likes of the Giant’s Causeway, Titanic, Derry City and the Mourne Mountains as an essential must-see destination for both local and international tourism.
What you didn’t know about Lough Neagh...
1. Lough Neagh is situated in the centre of Northern Ireland with five of the Province’s six counties touching its shores.
2. It is the biggest Lough in the British Isles and the third biggest lake in Europe measuring over 300 square km’s. It contains over 800 billion gallons of water, enough to fill 7 million swimming pools.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. The Lough has a rich Christian heritage with the remnants of three round towers and one of the finest high crosses in the whole of Ireland; Ardboe Cross.