Lough Erne is made up of two interconnected lakes, lower Lough Erne and Upper Lough Erne which lie predominantly in Co. Fermanagh in Northern Ireland and are effectively widened sections of the 80 km long River Erne. The name comes from the Irish ‘Loch Éirne’ meaning ‘Lake of the Érnai’ (the ‘Érnai’ or ‘Iverni’ were a people of early Ireland first mentioned in Ptolemy’s 2nd century Geography)
The southern-most lake is further up river and so is named Upper Lough Erne. It is made up of a watery maze of sheltered inlets and more than 150 islands. The Lower Lough, at 26 miles long is a much wider expanse of water and lies in a deep glacial trough. On the southern shores ice-scored limestones and ancient quartzite rocks form the dramatic Magho Cliffs.
Traditional hay-meadows and unimproved islands are characteristic habitats of the Lower Lough with flooded drumlins, reed-swamp and fen predominating on the lower Lough. The sheltered inlets provide a haven for wildlife. The RSPB reserve at Castlecaldwell has a unique inland breeding colony of sandwich tern, with whooper swan and golden eye over wintering on the Lough. Great crested grebe nest in spring and the Lough is also home to the Ireland’s largest heronry in a 400-yr old oak grove on the island of Innisfendra. The Crom Estate has the largest area of natural woodland in Northern Ireland and is home to pine martins in addition to nine species of bat, some extremely rare.
ENJOYING LOUGH ERNE
Lough Erne is a canoeist’s dream, with the Lower Lough providing rough open water adventure and the meandering backwaters of the Upper Lough ideal for beginners. An award winning canoe trail provides a map, which gives practical advice on everything required for an enjoyable canoe trip.
The Lough is a mixed coarse and game fishery with the Upper and Lower Loughs together forming one of Ireland’s most diverse fishing waters. The Lower Lough reaches depths of over 200 feet making it ideal for Brown Trout whilst the Upper Lough, with its vast reed beds provides ideal habitat for Pike. For more information on angling visit the Fermanagh Lakelands tourism-fishing guide.
Lough Erne is renowned as one of the most beautiful waterways in Europe. Few of the islands are inhabited, yet many have excellent jetties, making them hidden gems waiting to be discovered. Visit the website of the Erne branch of the Inland Waterways Association for more information on cruising and boating on the Erne.
Stretches of the Kingfisher Trail, the first long-distance cycle trail in Ireland, hug the shore of Lough Erne, making it the perfect eco-friendly of way of enjoying the lakes under your own steam. Trail maps are available here.
Lough Erne’s islands and shores are rich in Christian and pre-Christian ruins, monuments and ecclesiastical sites. Churches and monasteries were being built on the islands and shores of Lough Erne from the 6th century. Whilst they may seem remote today, in Early Christian times they were seats of great learning and Lough Erne was a busy highway, providing a route from the ocean near Ballyshannon into the interior of Ireland. Founded in the 6th Century by St. Molaise, Devenish Island, the biggest of the ‘holy Islands’ on Lough Erne is one of the finest monastic sites in Ireland, with a perfect 12th Century round tower and 15th century high cross. Read more about the history of islands here.