There are more than 12,000 lakes in Ireland, so it seems more than fair that the Irish have their own word for these beautiful in-land stretches of water. Picking from this vast amount was no easy task, but we’ve settled for eight of our favourite loughs (pronounced the same as a Scottish Loch) to explore with you below.
Did we miss out your favourite? Share your experiences of Ireland’s loughs in the comments below, and help us all bring Ireland that little bit closer to home.
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If you read last week’s retelling of The Children of Lir, then you will already be acquainted with Lough Derravaragh, or to use it’s Irish name – Dairbhreach.
Located in County Westmeath and feeding into the River Inny, it is said to be the place in which the children were transformed into swans by their wicked stepmother, and the setting of the first 300 years of their sentence.
Today, it is not hard to see why it was imagined as the location of great magic, and its beautiful sparkling waters are a popular attraction for canoeists, fishermen and, of course, the elegant swans for which it is so famed.
Lough Conn and Lough Cullin
If you enjoy the Irish Mythology behind Lough Derravaragh, then you’ll also want to check out the Loughs Conn and Cullin, which lie side by side in the shadows of the mountain Nephin in County Mayo.
It is said that there was once a hunter known as Fionn mac Cumhaill, who was chasing a boar with his two trusted hounds Cullin and Conn. However, as the boar ran from them, water poured from his hoofs. Conn dashed on beyond Cullin and pursued the boar for many days, but eventually a laked was formed from the accumulating water, drowning the dog – while his quarry escaped.
Cullin met the same fate when he took up his comrade’s chase, and giving his name to the Lough in which he drowned, just south of Conn.
Photo Creds: Christophe Meneboeuf
Of the three lakes stretching through the National Park of Killarney, Lough Leane is the largest and most enticing.
Its name translated from Irish (Loch Léin), means “lake of learning” which is likely derived from the monastery situated on one of its islands, Innisfallen. The Abbey of Innisfallen is thought to have been a place of great scholarly value in the Middle Ages, producing the Annals of Innisfallen – chronicles of the early history of Ireland.
Today the monastery lies in ruins and is one of the archaeological highlights of Leane, along with Ross Castle which is situated on its own island with its own history rich in legends, prophecies and copper mining.
Nestled in Ireland’s picturesque countryside, Lough Derg edges onto counties Clare, Galway and Tipperary, and provides the perfect getaway for a family vacation.
Landlubbers can engage in a whole host of activities such as horse-riding, hiking and cycling with the lake offering a beautiful backdrop, while water babies can take the plunge with sailing, windsurfing and water ski-ing (amongst others).
Not to be confused on the map with another Lough Derg, which is situated in the northernly most point of the Republic of Ireland in the beautiful county of Donegal. This particular lough is more famed for its pilgrimages than its water sports, and is the site of St Patrick’s Purgatory - a Christian pilgrimage dating back to the fifth century.
Photo Creds: Kenneth Allen
At an impressive 392 square kilometres, Lough Neagh is the largest freshwater lake not only in Ireland, but all of the British Isles. It is bordered by five out of six of Northern Ireland’s counties, and provides 40% of the country’s water supply.
Lough Neagh provides a haven for foodies and explorers alike, with an abundance of adventures to be had both on its shores and on its surface, with a delightful choice of cuisines dotted around it.
If you’re a Game of Thrones fan you’ve probably admired the beauty of Lough Neah before, as Shane’s Castle on its shores in County Antrim provided the backdrop for a jousting tournament between the Mountain and Loras Tyrell, and it’s waters became the Summer Sea travelled by Jorah and a captive Tyrion.
After Lough Neagh, Corrib is the second largest lake in Ireland – and the biggest in the Republic. It mostly lies across County Galway, edging onto Mayo and is famously home to around 365 islands, although anglers have more recently estimated the number to exceed 1,300.
Some of these islands can be visited and one of the larger bodies of land, Inchagoill, is the site of famed and protected Christian ruins – including Teampall Phádraig (or St. Patrick’s Church) which dates back to the sixth century, and Lugnad's stone which is thought to bear the oldest inscription in Ireland in the Latin alphabet.
Regular ferries run to Inchagoill for those that want to explore, but if you’d rather not disembark you can always experience Lough Corrib’s beauty from the comfort of a scenic boat tours, on which you can see everything from the mountains of Connemara to the abundance of wildlife that call Lough Corrib their home.
Photo Creds: Jay Sturner
Lough Gill has cemented its spot in Irish literature as the “lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore” of W.B Yeat’s “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”. The poem now features in Irish Passports, and is written about one of the beautiful islands contained within Gill’s waters.
This particular lough is surrounded by rich woodlands such as Slish Wood, Dooney Rock, and Hazelwood, which provide breath-taking nature walks and countless viewpoints from which to appreciate the beautiful reflections of the water.
It can also be a bit of a suntrap in the fairer weather which, combined with its calm surface, has made it a popular spot for both swimming and kayaking.
Photo Creds: Giuseppe Milo
Finally, no list of Ireland’s Loughs would be complete without the awe-inspiring Glendalough, nestled in the Wicklow Mountains National Park.
Known as the “Valley of the Two Lakes”, Glendalough actually consists of two bodies of water, the Lower Glen and the Upper Lough, both of which are teeming with fascinating history, medieval monuments and of course stunning scenery.
Situated just an hour’s drive away from the hustle and bustle Dublin, Glendalough is one of Ireland’s most popular spots for a daytrip. Whether you want to explore your adventurous side with a spot of rock climbing, or simply gaze out across the waters while enjoying a quiet picnic – it’s the perfect spot to get in touch with nature.