Lough Derg A magical place to uncover

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A rather gruesome legend has it that the name Lough Derg is derived from the Gaelic word for red – dearg. Apparently, one-eyed king Eochy Mac Luchta was once asked by poet Athirne for his remaining eye and obliging fellow that he was, he plucked it out, staining the waters of the lake red as a result.

Thankfully, the lake's waters have long since returned to their natural sparkling blue/grey hues.

The lakeshore is dotted with picturesque villages offering boat hire, mooring and leisure facilities and an excellent variety of restaurants and pubs, many with live traditional music sessions. Whatever you choose, a visit to the magical Lough Derg is a great way to uncover the beauty of Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands.

Duration of Itinerary: 2 days      

Highlights: Portumna Castle and Gardens, Irish Workhouse Centre, Holy Island

morning

Lough Derg, at the southern end of the River Shannon, is a beautiful narrow lake that holds many tales from our prehistoric past with 90 heritage sites around its shores.

Start your day in the lakeside ‘twin towns’ of Killaloe, Co. Clare (western shore) and Ballina, Co. Tipperary (eastern shore). The picturesque towns are linked by an 18th century, 13 arch bridge - one of the most photogenic bridges in the country – and overlooked by rolling hills and grazing cattle.

Even with this majestic structure it's still hard to believe that picturesque little Killaloe with its medieval castle was once known as the 'Capital of Ireland'. It's the birthplace of Brian Boru, the High King who won a famous battle against the Vikings and their Dublin pals in the Battle of Clontarf, turfing them out of Ireland in the process.

The lake can be enjoyed in many ways whether it’s spotting wildlife, angling, sailing, cruising or simply watching local comings and goings while sipping a cuppa at a lakeside café.

You can take a lesson in sailing, kayaking, canoeing or your choice of water sport at the University of Limerick Adventure Centre. Or experience the breath-taking scenery of the lake on a trip aboard The Spirit of Killaloe, perhaps even sampling some of Ireland’s best gins on the gin cruise!

Back on dry land there are excellent walking trails around Killaloe, for example the Ballycuggaran Loop which takes 1.5-2 hours. It starts at Ballycuggaran, Co. Clare, which was the homeland of the O'Cuggarans, an important family at the court of Brian Boru. While the history is interesting, it's the stunning views along the route that'll enthral you.

If you decide to explore the east side, from Ballina, the Graves of the Leinstermen are the starting point of a 6km heather-strewn looped trail that, at the summit of Tountinna, rewards walkers with a breath-taking panorama over the entire Lough Derg.

afternoon

Travel to the pretty village of Terryglass where the River Shannon meets the lough to enjoy a spot of lunch. As you head back towards Ballina stop off in the village of Dromineer with its 10th century parish church or the marina in Garrykennedy.

Another option is to spend some time exploring the reminders of Ireland’s past in the 13th century Nenagh Castle.

Pre-swim stretch, Ballycuggeran, County Clare Pre-swim stretch, Ballycuggeran, County Clare

evening

There’s plenty of restaurants in Ballina as well as pubs serving up lively music. Have a drink or two and let the relaxed pace of Ireland's Hidden Heartlands ease you into the evening.






morning

Head straight to the scenic village of Mountshannon, stopping for a coffee and a snack there en-route. A trip to the famous monastic settlement of Holy Island or Inis Cealtra is a must with its well-preserved Round Tower, ruins of six churches, a holy well and an eighth-century graveyard.

You can take a boat trip there and a guided tour with local historian Ger Madden from Holy Island Boat Trips or even kayak out to the island yourself.

Keep an eye out for the rare white-tailed eagle around Mountshannon. Saoirse and Caimin, the first white-tailed eagles to breed in Ireland in 110 years, have made Lough Derg their home and can be best viewed from Mountshannon harbour or the new Bird Hide viewing point.

From the shores of Lough Derg at Mountshannon, you might be lucky enough to get a sighting of the White Tailed Eagles. These are the largest Eagles in Europe and are the fourth largest eagle species in the world.

Irish Workhouse Centre, Portumna, Co. Galway Irish Workhouse Centre, Portumna, Co. Galway

afternoon

Next up is a short 25-minute drive to the vibrant market town of Portumna which is a great base to hire a river cruiser. You can brush up on your Irish history with a visit to the Irish Workhouse Centre which tells tragic stories of poor families during the Great Famine of 1846-1848. The Portumna region was hit so-badly by the failure of the potato crop that the population shrank by over 66 percent during the brutal years of famine.

A visit to the imposing Portumna Castle and Gardens uncovers its many chapters of Irish history. Built in 1618 by Richard de Burgo, 4th Earl of Clanricarde, the castle was the seat of the De Burgo family for more than 200 years. While you're there, make sure to enjoy the tearooms and the lovely gardens which are planted with organic vegetables, herbs, and flowers.

Portumna Forest Park boasts 450 hectares of woodland with marked walking trails and its own population of fallow deer and red squirrel. Also in Portumna, walking and cycling enthusiasts can join the scenic 500km Beara Breifne Way, Ireland’s longest walking and cycling route.

evening

To finish off your trip rest and relax in a homely pub in Portumna and if you’re thinking of extending your trip, here’s a 2-day itinerary around the lakes of Tipperary, Clare and Galway.






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