Since in next posts I’ll be talking to you of my visit to Oxford Island nature reserve, which is on the shores of Lough Neagh, I want to say in advance some things about this big lake situated in the central part of Northern Ireland.
As first thing, “lough” means nothing else than “lake” in irish (to be precise there’s some very little difference compared to our meaning) and comes from gaelic “loch” (as the famous Loch Ness in Scotland).
Lough Neagh is the biggest lake in Ireland and in the british archipelago, and the seventh in Western Europe, with its 30 km lenght and 15 km width. Its perimeter touches five of six nothern irish counties and in its waters there are a lot of little islands.
But what is the origin of this lake? Irish mythology gives its version, as usual full of wonder: according to the legend, the lake was created by the giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn Mac Cool in english pronunciation), legendary warrior protagonist of the Fenian Cycle, one of the four main irish cycles. During a fight with a scottish giant, Fionn took a piece of ground to throw it to his rival, leaving a crater and creating Lough Neagh. Moreover, since the throw was wrong, the ground fell in the sea and created Isle of Man.
There’s another legend talking about this big lake’s origin, this one explaining even from where the name comes: according to this story, Lough Neagh took its name from Echaid, son of Mairidh, king of Munster. Echaid fell in love with his stepmother and they decided to run away together, but someone killed their horses. So Oengus, god of love, appeared and gave them a gigantic horse with the magic power of carrying all of their belongings, but with a warning: if the horse was stopping to rest, it would be their doom. When they arrived to Ulster, the horse stopped to urinate and there a spring rose from the ground. Echaid decided that was the right place to stop, put a stone on the spring so it wouldn’t overflow and built his house. But one night he forgot to cover the spring with the stone and the spring inundated everything, drowning Echaid and almost all his family and created Loch n-Echach: the Lake of Echaid.