Lough Neagh Natural Heritage

Lough Neagh Natural Heritage

Lough Neagh sits in the center of Northern Ireland with many small communities nestled around its shorelines. It has inspired poetry, supports local and international wildlife, provides a large water catchment area that helps supply drinking water for people across Northern Ireland, and is home to the largest commercial eel industry in Europe. The Lough has many faces – from wild and windswept to calmly serene – each as quietly beautiful as the other.

Visitors and locals come to the lough shore from across the province. For many it is an opportunity to be close to nature and there is no doubt that the Lough holds a special place in the hearts of many.

Lough Neagh Partnership (LNP) are working with local landowners, farmers, industry, and communities through its landscape partnership scheme (funded by heritage lottery fund) to deliver a number of important cultural, built and natural heritage projects around the lough.

One of the main Natural Heritage projects is “Saving Nature” where LNP are working alongside partners RSPB NI, Local Landowners, Farmers, NIEA etc. to look at the key habitats around the Lough and the important wildlife species they support. Through a system of monitoring, research, engagement and practical restoration we hope to help improve the biodiversity at key sites and locations around the Lough. Through this research we can improve our understanding of the impact we as people are having on the Lough, and gain knowledge which will allow us to continue to interact with this landscape in a sustainable and well informed manner.

Lough Neagh Partnership (LNP) have been working with local landowners and the wider community looking at the potential impact of pressures such as climate change, over and under grazing, scrub control, etc. on the ecologically sensitive habitats and biodiversity found within and around the Lough Neagh & Lough Beg Special Protected Area.  Work is currently being carried out at Brookend Nature Reserve, where vegetation surveys are being carried out assessing the change in habitats and any changes in biodiversity. Surveys are also been undertaken to look at the invertebrate population found on the site and how this has altered with changing management on the site. Once the surveys have been carried out LNP will aim to work alongside Northern Ireland Environment Agency and other local landowners within the area to help improve the biodiversity value of the lands and offer support to the local communities and peoples who are looking after this valuable wildlife resource. It is also hoped that with correct management breeding waders such as curlew, redshank, and lapwing will start to use the lands again.

There are many pressures both man made and environmental that are acting on these special habitats, and whilst funding has been secured for the immediate future as an organisation we are constantly seeking ways to draw in more to continue this important work. Working alongside local communities and farmers is a vitally important part of our work, and educating recreational users and others on the potential impacts of their use and how they can help us to look after the Lough and its surrounding landscape is for us a big part of what we do. We are not alone in our love for this landscape and we would ask people to engage with us and help manage this landscape.

For further information and details of volunteering opportunities within Natural heritage projects, please contact either the Natural Heritage officer Siobhan Thompson at siobhan.thompson@loughneaghpartnership.org or Chris McCarney the Volunteer officer at chris.mccarney@loughneaghpartnership.org

The Lough Neagh Storytellers

The Lough Neagh Storytellers

Lough Neagh Partnership put a call out for local storytellers who wanted to welcome visitors to their community and tell stories about Lough Neagh and its people.  Last year 13 people from around Lough Neagh completed the  programme to be a qualified tour guide.

A Sanctuary for Wildlife

The programme allowed the participants to share knowledge and expertise on the value of Lough Neagh as a valuable wildlife sanctuary.  “We discovered rich environment habitats around the lough for birds migrating from the arctic winter that come here for the winter,” said Fergal Kearney, a participant on the programme interested in linking Seamus Heaney’s poetry to the Lough Neagh Landscape.  The Lough is also an important breeding site for common terns, and overwinters a wide range of birds from Berwicks swan, Golden Plover, and the Great Crested Grebe.  Of course no story about the lough is complete without mentioning our Lough Neagh Eels and our native dollaghan trout.

“I did not fully appreciate the full range of wildlife that make their home around Lough Neagh.  It was a pleasant surprise to realise that Lough Neagh is so highly valued as an important wildlife site for by European and World experts” said Judith Boyle  TTS Associates who delivered the programme and managed the accreditation process.

Another participant, Gary McErlain, a Lough Neagh fisherman of many generations. “Lough Neagh fishing is in my blood.   I am passionate about it and the Lough, and I never wanted to do any other job.   It can often be a very hard way of life, with very anti-social hours and much exhaustion – yet I still love it.   I can only try to explain it by saying that the Lough, and eel fishing in particular, have a magnetic pull for me, a pull that most people who live beside it or work on it, will understand, and are powerless to stop.”   Through the tour guide Gary pledged to do what he could to promote the fishing culture and heritage of Lough Neagh.  “Realistically, I may well be the last generation of Lough Neagh eel fishermen” explained Gary, “So I want to do what I can to ensure that people at home and those from farther afield appreciate know the stories of fishing heritage around Lough Neagh.”

Layers upon layers of built heritage

The participants brought us to built heritage sites illustrate how Lough Neagh shaped the lives of local people from the Stone Age to early Christian heritage of towers, churches and monasteries.

Anne-marie McStocker was reared in Cargin on the northern shore of Lough Neagh and considers herself  a ‘Loughshore girl’.  “My parents and grandparents were Loughshore people, and my maternal grandfather’s family were fishing people.  My mother was a lifelong Lough Neagh ambassador long before the label existed”.   Anne-Marie told the story of the ancient ruins at Cranfield Church, where St. Olcan is reportedly buried.  She demonstrated how visitors might benefit from the healing properties of Crannfield Holy Well.  “The site pre-dates Christianity and offers something for everybody: nature-lovers, historians, those interested in spirituality and even picnic-goers!

Anne-Marie adds:  “It brings a rueful smile, to think that this place, my sisters, brothers and I so derided as children is a place that I am now very proud to welcome visitors as a Lough Neagh Ambassador.”


Food Songs & Poetry

Lough Neagh has inspired many local people to poetry and song.  Seamus Heaney use the Lough Neagh and loughshore characters as subjects of his poetry.  While Seamus Heaney’s poetry is recognised around the world there are many other poets that used Lough Neagh as inspiration for poetry and song such as Moses Taggert and Geordie Hanna.   Over the last few years the creativity of local food producers has improved beyond recognition.  The Ambassadors involved local food producers, pubs and restaurants in our efforts to make the visit to Lough Neagh a special and memorable experience.



St Mary’s College Clady has received the overall ‘My Place in the Landscape’ Award for their outstanding participation in a unique collaborative project – My Place Within the Landscape – between Lough Neagh Partnership, RSPB NI and Seamus Heaney HomePlace.

The creative achievements of more than 40 students from Magherafelt High School, Sperrin Integrated College, Magherafelt; St Mary’s College, Clady; St Patrick’s College, Maghera and St Pius X College, Magherafelt; were recognised with highly commended certificates, with the writers of the top five poems also receiving a wooden pen. In Heaney’s poem ‘Digging’ which was included in the ‘My Place within the Landscape’ project, he talks of his relationship with the power of the pen.

“Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.

I’ll dig with it.”

Award presentations were made by Queen’s University Belfast Children’s Writing Fellow, Myra Zepff. Myra said: “I am delighted to have been involved in this wonderful project which brought young people, poetry, and the landscape together in such a fresh and vivid way. Their experiences, both of the environment around them and of the creative process will undoubtedly stay with them for a long time”

The project funded by Heritage Lottery, encouraged within the students a love of both landscape and literature, through increasing awareness of their own natural and cultural heritage encompassing various themes including spiritual awareness; creative expression; natural heritage; social studies and use of technology. It provided an opportunity for students to develop the skills and empathy required to respond personally to poetry, as well as giving a better understanding of the rich variety of habitats around Lough Neagh; their biodiversity importance; why they have been designated and how these habitats are threatened.

Conor Jordan, Chair of Lough Neagh Partnership Forum, said: “The poetry produced by the winning students is exceptional and I’ve been told it was difficult to choose the best such was the level of creativity. I would like to congratulate all those who participated in this most enjoyable and truly unique project.  It is an excellent example of how partnership working can help promote a greater understanding of our landscape heritage and the literary value it holds for the observer.

“The cultural significance of Lough Neagh and Lough Beg has been recognised globally thanks to the poetic eloquence of Seamus Heaney and we are delighted to be part of a project that has encouraged young people to look at the landscape with a new heritage awareness.”

Speaking at the celebration, Deputy Chair of Mid Ulster District Council, Councillor Mark Glasgow said, “We are delighted to have participated in this collaborative project that ensures the legacy of Seamus Heaney and his work lives on, and which gives inspiration to new and future generations of young people to pursue their creative dreams. The Seamus Heaney HomePlace education programme and its participation in collaborative shared education programmes like My Place in the Landscape not only provide this inspiration, but also take the poetry of Seamus Heaney as a catalyst for teaching and learning in a wider sense.”

Jess McVicar from RSPB NI added:  “Through this unique project looking at how landscape inspires literature, RSPB NI has connected young people with nature in the important protected landscapes in their area. The project gives students the opportunity to experience first-hand the very landscapes that inspired poems such as ‘Digging’ and ‘The Strand at Lough Beg’. RSPB NI has been delighted to work on My Place Within the Landscape, helping students to learn about the importance of conservation and to recognise the richness of their own natural heritage.”

This is a project of Lough Neagh Partnership under the Landscape partnership programme funded by Heritage Lottery Fund.




‘POETRY IN THE LANDSCAPE’ AWARD: Aaron McGahon, Year 10; St Mary’s


This Farming Life

Silage season (stanza 1)

One bright morning at the break of dawn

At the start of silage season

My brother, dad and I

Got up early to get started at the silage.

When we started up the tractors and the harvester

You could hear the roar of the engine.

It sounded like the incredible hulk.

When we were out in the field there was a

Sweet smell of silage, sweet like honey.

I remember my Granda he loved to be out in the open air,

The sound of his voice the chuckle of his laughter,

He could never be replaced but my dog digger

Fills the empty seat.


Autumn (stanza 2)

One misty morning at the start of Autumn

The air was as cold as ice when it hit off our faces.

I went into the cow field. The first thing I saw

Was Charlie the bull.

A bull with horns, an off white beast.

I look at him and I see a gentle giant.

We start to feed our cows and calves.

They run like lightening across the field

to get the food. It smelt very sweet. It was dirty.

It felt like cut grass. It’s amazing to see all the wee

calves growing up.

The Winter months (stanza 3)

The winter months

One icy morning in the middle of winter.

All the cows are finally in.

It’s cold outside.

My brother my dad and I went out to feed the cows.

The cows are sad.

The atmosphere is tense they trod slowly to get their feed.

I find a mother that had a late calve.

They both were dead.

Lost friends.


Highly Commended Poems:


My Hometown

As I walk through the peaceful graveyard

I feel a lot of people are with me, but it feels dead.

I see my grandma’s graveyard ahead, I miss her.

As we get to Toner’s Bog giant metal straws suck up

The soaking, soggy, soulless bog leaving a willow tree alone.

On the bog the sphagnum moss sucks up the water making it 20 times heavier,

Better do a few laps of the sperrins shadowing behind it.

Now the wise widow tree sways with the wind,

Now living its last few years in peace.

Long sharp shades of grass flick the wildlife away

With the help of the whispering wind.

We leave to go to the historical Church Island.

We all run wild to the church.

Squelch! Squash! Slop! As our feet leave footprints

The wet gooey ground sucks my shoe as I wiggle it about and sway and

Thump! Onto the soggy chocolate cake.

We get a calling echo “Come back! Come back!”

It silences the place and we all run back.

My feet rise and swiftly drop like a swallow into the dirt

Looking like a bomb exploded

With millions and billions of fragments of dirt going everywhere.

I’m hungry I see a blackberry bush

I pick one and throw it in my mouth. Mmm!

Just as good as my old man’s blackberries.

This was a day to remember at my hometown, Ballaghy.

Seamus O’Sullivan 10B – St. Patricks College Maghera


The Lough Field

As the stone ripples into the water

It turns into something beautiful

Diamond blue water sines in the sun

Water crashes into the boats, hard as rock

The current sparkled like

Shiny jewels.

The butterflies dance all over the fields

As the trees blow, the leaves flutter

To show the beauty of life.

The rushes poke you like mosquitoes

The mud squelches as you walk

The fishermen dance as they catch fish.

When it rains, the puddles fill.

The fishes swimming

Each swimming, hoping they

Wouldn’t be caught by the fishermen.

As the night goes

The day breaks and

I love the place

I’d call it home.

Not many like

The mucky ground

Or the prickly rushes.

But it’s the place I call mine.

For even the Lough is

My home.

Oonagh Doyle Year 8 – Sperrin Integrated College


The Moyola River

The Moyola River snakes through the fields.

Carrying the mountain water down to the sea.

It’s water rich like coffee.

It swells and ebbs.

Pools catch in the corners.

In these dark holes the trout rests.


Below the surface the stillness is suspended.

I drop the line.


The fish swims on.

Steve Wilson Year 10 – Magherafelt High School


Two Dollys in Derrygarve

Round two bends through the hollow trees,

Derrygarve is meant for me.

It might not be where I live

But it’s where all my memories live

Even though the most important person lies alone

Up the Derrygarve road under stones.

I’d pull up at the house,

Hear the click of granny’s heels,

Like the tick of the clock, going over the tiles, towards the table,

Listening to the plumbing of the kettle,

Watching the steam cloud the window, like a cold fog.

With our two cups of tea in hand Hugo Duncan on the wireless

We sing Dolly Paton “I will always love you!”

In tune we hug goodbye,

My head lingering on her shoulder,

A feeling I’ll always remember a smell I’ll always treasure;

It might just be her pomegranate noir, or maybe her washing powder,

But it’s a smell that filled the air wherever she’d enter.

These little everyday unusual things, that seemed so normal,

Now seem so strange and absent now they’re no more

As I move through gales towards the future

Still sniffing the air for your scent.

Round tow bends through the hollow trees,

Derrygarve is meant for me.

Blaithin Donnelly Year 9 – St Pius x College Magherafelt


Secret History of Aghagallon

Secret History of Aghagallon

The fieldwork for the archaeology dig at Aghagallon was completed last year.  Lough Neagh Partnership Ltd commissioned the Centre for Archaeology at Queens to explore the ancient enclosure at Derrynaseer as part of the HLF Landscape Scheme funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The enclosure at Derrynaseer, Aghagallon has long intrigued archaeologists. The enclosure is large, about 160m in diameter, and more or less circular, defined by an earthen bank which has become incorporated into the pattern of local fields.  At the initial community information night in Aghagallon, Dr Colm Murray, Director of the Centre for Archaeology Fieldwork explained that the size and location of the site meant it was important for the whole region but that the team were starting the excavation with three possible hypothesis including: –

  1. a ritual enclosure called a Henge established approx. 3,000BC during the Neolithic period or new stone age
  2. a medieval monastic site
  3. a medieval marketplace where craftspeople under the protection of the clan chief would demonstrate their skills and sell their wares to the local people.


“The local townland names also give us important clues” explained Dr Liam Campbell, Built Heritage Officer with the Lough Neagh Partnership, “The enclosure is in the townland of Derrynaseer, from the Irish means – oakwood of the craftsmen while Aghagallon is based on the Irish for – field of the standing stones.


Dr Colm Donnelly emphasised “The work of uncovering the past is like peeling an onion and rarely will we get a simple definitive answer but rather we will get bits of evidence that will raise a whole range of additional questions.”

Aghagallon Information

Over 40 local people of Aghagallon came to the community information meeting

The archaeology team moved into the church carpark on Monday 5 June and set up camp.  Over the four week period of the dig,   49 volunteers and 120 school children joined the Queen’s team to get down into the trenches and help uncover the secret past of this ancient site.  In total seven trenches were excavated at different locations across the site to uncover and explore “anomalies” found during and initial geophysical survey of the site.


Dr Liam Campbell said “In the excavated trenches, we found preserved seeds, fragments of wood and slag from metalworking, probably copper working.  In another trench, the presence of pits or post-holes along with charred hazel nut shells, and burnt bone.  A fragment of waste from glass working from the medieval period was found just above these features”.


In the trench near the hedge, the archaeologists were delighted to find an internal ditch filled with a charcoal rich soil, which contains some charred barley grains within it, some struck flint, and one possible fragment of Neolithic pottery.  Archaeologists have observed that a common feature of all henge monuments is the absence of an external ditch. They all have a bank, but unlike more or less every other type of field monument with a ditch and bank in Ireland or Britain, there is never an external ditch. Instead there is typically an internal ditch, sometimes deep, sometimes wide and shallow. The suggestion has been made by some archaeologists that this indicates that the intention of a henge is to keep forces of a spiritual nature contained within the henge, rather than keep forces of a material nature on the outside, such as, for instance, would be the case with a fort.

Trench 3 Aghagallon

Local volunteers busy in trench 3 at Aghagallon

At the final tour of the site, Cormac McSparron, Site Director explained that his team will have a lot of work to do to follow up on the fieldwork.   “We will send the samples we have gathered for radiocarbon dating.  This will give a specific time window when Neolithic ritual activities took place on the site and a similar time window for the craft working at the site.  We can say for certain that the site was used as a ritual site around 3,000BC the Neolithic period and the site was used around 1200AD as a medieval fair for crafts people: metal working, probably copper working, and some indications of glass working also.”  It is initially difficult to comprehend that the two activities took place thousands of years apart and the local people would have had very different perceptions of the site during these different periods in history.”


“This is an important and fascinating result” said Dr Liam Campbell and confirms the importance of linking oral and cultural history found in local stories, field names and townland names to archaeological investigation.  “We can now say with a level of confidence that the place name ‘Derrynaseer’ referred to the craft activities of copper and glass work on the site in the medieval period while the place name ‘Aghagallon’ referred to the standing stones refers to more ancient times.”  Dr Liam Campbell enthused “This finding gives us some proof of just how old at least some of our townland names are!”


In particular, the Centre for Archaeology Fieldwork were so generous with their time and expertise “We would like to thank the local community of Aghagallon for being such welcome hosts and all the volunteers for their help”. said Dr Liam Campbell, “We would particularly like to express our sincere thanks to the staff of St Patrick’s Parish, Aghagallon for allowing us to dig up their land and accommodate us for the duration of the dig.