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.