Original Official Site of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board
In no hurry to reach the sea, the Erne river meanders from end to end of watery, forested county Fermanagh. It runs into a huge island studded lake with a constriction in the middle where the ancient town of Enniskillen stands. In some places it is a shallow channel, in others it's five miles wide and very deep.
A paradise for birds, wild flowers and fishermen, Lough Erne is a magnificent waterway for unrestricted cruising and boating, the most uncongested in Europe, The lakeside is high and rocky in some parts and, in addition to the 154 islands, there are coves and inlets to explore. When the wind blows, navigation on Lower Lough Erne running for 26 miles almost to the Atlantic, can be something of a challenge with waves of open-sea dimensions. Shallow Upper Lough Erne, flowing south-east of Enniskillen for about 12 miles, is a maze of islands and you need a chart to find your way.
Hire cruisers are well equipped and there are plenty of public jetties, mooring buoys and small marinas, with waterside shops where you can stock up with provisions, and hotels and restaurants for a change from self-catering. Also, consider taking the Shannon-Erne Waterway, a series of canals, streams, rivers and lakes linking these two beautiful rivers.
One of the most interesting islands is Devenish. In the Middle Ages there was a chain of island monasteries in Lough Erne. Devenish, where a 12th-century round tower stands sentinel, was an important port of call. From the tower's high windows the monks could see approaching strangers. In its cool cavities they rang their bells and hid their sacred relics. The island also has a tiny church of about the same date, and a ruined Augustinian abbey.
In the cemetery at the west end of Boa Island there are-two ancient stone Janus (looking-bothways) idols, perhaps dating from the first century. White Island and Inishmacsaint also have their numen, as befits sacred islands, the first with a collection of Christian statues of distinctly pagan mien, and the second a High Cross and a herd of goats running wild.
Wherever you float on Lough Erne, you are likely to see swans of one kind or another. Terns and common scoters breed on the low-lying islands and sand pipers, nightjars and garden warblers nest around the shore.
On the upper lough there are lots of greatcrested grebes and a heronry whose big grey inmates may accompany your boat with much flapping of wings.
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