Lough Neagh Area of Special Scientific Interest (NI)
Lough Neagh, United Kingdom
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Lough Neagh, sometimes Loch Neagh,/ˌlɒx ˈneɪ/ is a freshwater lake in Northern Ireland. It is the largest lake in Northern Ireland, supplying 40% of its water; the biggest on the island of Ireland, the biggest in the United Kingdom, and the biggest in the British Isles. Its name comes from Irish: Loch nEachach, meaning "Lake of Eachaidh", although today it is usually spelt Loch nEathach (Irish: [ɫ̪ɔx ˈn̠ʲahax]).
With an area of 392 square kilometres (151 sq mi), it is the largest lake on the Island of Ireland and the 15th largest freshwater lake within the European Union. and is ranked 31st in the List of largest lakes of Europe. Located twenty miles (30 km) to the west of Belfast, it is approximately twenty miles (30 km) long and nine miles (15 km) wide. It is very shallow around the margins and the average depth in the main body of the lake is about 9 m (30 ft); although at its deepest the lough is about 25 metres (80 ft) deep.
Of the 4550 km² catchment area, around 9% lies in the Republic of Ireland and 91% in Northern Ireland; altogether 43% of the land area of Northern Ireland is drained into the lough, which itself flows out northwards to the sea via the River Bann. As one of its sources is the Upper Bann, the Lough can itself be considered as part of the Bann.
Towns and villages near the Lough include Craigavon, Antrim, Crumlin, Randalstown, Toomebridge, Ballyronan, Ballinderry, Moortown, Ardboe, Maghery, Lurgan and Magherafelt.
Five of the six counties of Northern Ireland have shores on the Lough (only Fermanagh does not), and its area is split among them. The counties are listed clockwise:
The area of the lake is split between six Local Government Districts of Northern Ireland, which are listed clockwise:
Although the Lough is used for a variety of recreational and commercial activities, it is exposed and tends to get extremely rough very quickly in windy conditions.
The lough is used by Northern Ireland Water as a source of fresh water. The lough supplies 40% of the region's drinking water. There have long been plans to increase the amount of water drawn from the lough, through a new water treatment works at Hog Park Point, but these are yet to materialise.
Lough Neagh was widely assumed to be owned by the state, but in 2005 it emerged that it is the ancestral property of the Earl of Shaftesbury. This may have serious implications for planned changes to state-run domestic water services in Northern Ireland, as the lough is also used as a sewage outfall, and this arrangement is only permissible through British Crown immunity. In 2012, it was reported that the Earl is considering transferring ownership of the Lough to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Traditional working boats on Lough Neagh include wide-beamed 16-to-21-foot (4.9 to 6.4 m) clinker-built, sprit-rigged working boats and smaller flat-bottomed "cots" and "flats". Barges, here called "lighters", were used until the 1940s to transport coal over the lough and adjacent canals. Until the 17th century, log boats (coití) were the main means of transport. Few traditional boats are left now, but a community-based group on the southern shore of the lough is rebuilding a series of working boats.
In the 19th century, three canals were constructed, using the lough to link various ports and cities: the Lagan Navigation provided a link from the city of Belfast, the Newry Canal linked to the port of Newry, and the Ulster Canal led to the Lough Erne navigations, providing a navigable inland route via the River Shannon to Limerick, Dublin and Waterford. The Lower Bann was also navigable to Coleraine and the Antrim coast, and the short Coalisland Canal provided a route for coal transportation. Of these waterways, only the Lower Bann remains open today, although a restoration plan for the Ulster Canal is currently in progress.
Lough Neagh Rescue provides a search and rescue service 24 hours a day. It is a voluntary service funded by the District Councils bordering the Lough. Its members are highly trained and are a declared facility for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency who co-ordinate rescues on Lough Neagh.
Lough Neagh attracts bird watchers from many nations due to the number and variety of birds which winter and summer in the boglands and shores around the lough.
Eel fishing has been a major industry in Lough Neagh for centuries. Today Lough Neagh eel fisheries export their eels to restaurants all over the world, and the Lough Neagh Eel has been granted Protected Geographical Status under European Union law.
In the Irish mythical tale Cath Maige Tuired ("the Battle of Moytura"), Lough Neagh is called one of the twelve chief lochs of Ireland. The origin of the lake and its name is explained in an Irish tale that was written down in the Middle Ages, but is likely pre-Christian. According to the tale, the lake is named after Echaid (modern spelling: Eochaidh or Eachaidh), who was the son of Mairid (Mairidh), a king of Munster. Echaid falls in love with his stepmother, a young woman named Ébliu (Ébhlinne). They try to elope, accompanied by many of their retainers, but someone kills their horses. In some versions, the horses are killed by Midir (Midhir), which may be another name for Ébliu's husband Mairid. Óengus (Aonghus) then appears and gives them an enormous horse that can carry all their belongings. Óengus warns that they must not let the horse rest or it will be their doom. However, after reaching Ulster the horse stops and urinates, and a spring rises from the spot. Echaid decides to build a house there and covers the spring with a capstone to stop it overflowing. One night, the capstone is not replaced and the spring overflows, drowning Echaid and most of his family, and creating Loch n-Echach (Loch nEachach: the lake of Eochaidh or Eachaidh).
The character Eochaidh refers to The Daghdha, a god of the ancient Irish who was also known as Eochaidh Ollathair (meaning "horseman, father of all"). Ébhlinne, Midhir and Aonghus were also names of deities. Mary McGrath and Joan Griffith write that the idea of a supernatural being creating the landscape with its own body is an ancient one common to many pre-Christian cultures. A Gaelic sept called the Uí Eachach (meaning "descendents of Eochaidh") dwelt in the area and it is likely that their name comes from the cult of the god Eochaidh.
Another tale tells how the lake was formed when Ireland's legendary giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) scooped up a chunk of earth and tossed it at a Scottish rival. It fell into the Irish Sea, forming the Isle of Man, while the crater left behind filled with water to form Lough Neagh.
Lough Neagh at Killywoolaghan, County Tyrone
Lough Neagh near Ardmore Point
Lough Neagh at Shane's Castle, County Antrim
Lough Neagh at Gawley's Gate, County Antrim
Lough Neagh at Maghery, County Armagh
Lough Neagh at Ballyronan, County Londonderry
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The boundaries and names shown, and the designations used on this map do not imply official endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations.
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