Lough Derg, literally translated, means ‘Lake of the Bloody Eye’. Lough Derg is a lake of two parts. Its northern half displays headlands, islands, and shoals of boulder-rich glacial drift. The southern end is much more dramatic as its deep waters are channelled through a gap in the mountains.
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Lough Derg provides rich habitats for a diverse flora. Its northern shores are more species rich as the limestone underfoot provides suitable soils. On the southern shores of the lake the waterfront soil is acid, and plant life is less abundant.
The Shannon system is unequalled in Europe for the quality of its birdlife, and Lough Derg shares in this distinction, having permanent residents and summer and winter visitors.
Few of Ireland's lakes offer such easy access or variety of attractions to the hiker, boater, cyclist, or motorist. Almost anything that floats is available for hire: luxury cruisers, barges, yachts, dinghies, sailboats, and canoes. Day and half day cruises are also available. Numerous well-sheltered harbours and good moorings provide peace of mind for those hiring a cruiser for the first time. Ideally the lake should be explored around its banks and then, if possible, from the water. A cabin cruiser, equipped with dinghy and bicycle, affords excellent and leisurely opportunities for the best of both worlds. Inland from the lake's shores, country roads and lanes head in all directions.
For the water sport enthusiast the facilities are world-class. Good sailing breezes and uncluttered expanses of water provide top class conditions for sailing and windsurfing. Accessible moorings and the absence of cross-winds make these waters ideal for waterskiing.
Lough Derg holds huge stocks of fish. The lake’s depths are rich in trout and coarse species like pike and bream. Tench and rudd are found in the weedbeds. Eels were once sold at London's Billingsgate market. Angling on the lake is principally by boat, and facilities are available from many boating and fishing centres. Some operators offer complete packages which include boat hire, gillies, accommodation, travel, all meals including packed lunches, bait, tackle, and advice on local fishing conditions. The boat user is able to anchor close to deep water or near reeds, or bring a dinghy up a small river.
Lough Derg’s shores have been settled since prehistoric times. Its channel was one of Ireland's oldest transportation routes. In early medieval times hermits, soldiers, raiders, students, and pilgrims all travelled along this 'highway' from the Atlantic ocean to the Irish midlands.
Today's travellers can explore its famous monasteries: St Colm's or Colimba's, Terryglass; St Ruadhan's, Lorrha; Saints Lua and Flannan, Killaloe; St Cronan's, Tuamgraney; and St Caimin's, Holy Island.
Castles fortified the fording places and strategic points along the lakeshore. But the Gaelic tower houses no longer shelter the Kennedys, chieftains of Ormond, or the O'Briens of Dal gCais. The castle ruins of Dromineer, Garrykennedy, Annagh, and Derry are beyond repair; others like Drominagh are mere castle sites. Some like Cloondagough and Redwood have been conserved or restored.
Remnants of mansions, walls, and deer parks still reach down to the shore. Some like Castlelough and Portumna demesne are forest parks. Derelict quays reflect the legacy of 19th century commercial activity on the lake.
Many islands, shoals, and rocks are associated with the mythical life of the lake and named after personalities or long-forgotten incidents. Benjamin Shoal, Mountaineer rock, Coose Bay, and even Lough Derg itself, all have stories to tell.
On this lake of the Bloody Eye, where once the fleets of Brian Boru sailed to meet the O'Connors of Connacht in naval battle, peaceful cruisers now seek out the modern ports of call. They will find not only ‘a céad míle fáilte’ (the Gaelic phrase meaning ‘100,000 welcomes’) but well-developed tourist harbours at Portumna, Terryglass, Kilgarvan, Coolbawn, Dromineer, Garrykennedy, Ballina, Killaloe, Scarriff, Mountshannon, and Williamstown.
Signposted driving and walking routes enable the visitor to explore Shannon’s pleasure lake and stop off at the many picturesque lakeside villages with colourful traditional Irish music pubs, restaurants, and a range of accommodation.
Lough Derg is located north-east of Limerick off the R493, R352, and R463 roads. Nenagh is the largest nearby town.
Information and photos © and courtesy Shannon Development