Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The Natural History of Ireland (Author: Gerard Boate)

chapter 9

Of the Lakes or Loughs of Ireland.

Of the little Loughs.

LOUGHS there is a very great number in Ireland, especially in the provinces of Ulster and Connaught, we may distinguish them into three several sorts, great, middle sort, and the least. Under this last we comprehend all such whose parts discover it self to the eye all over at one time. This sort of loughs are found in several places of the other provinces, but nothing near so many as in Ulster. Every one of these commonly sends forth a brook, and some more than one, being all of them very deep (the very least


not excepted) and well stored with fish so as they are not only delightful, especially such as are situated in some dale or valley, or environed round about, or on some sides with pleasant little hills (as it falleth out in the greatest part of them) but also commodious and profitable, affording good opportunity to build houses and castles upon their borders, which was done in many places by the English and Scots, who had made several fair plantations, and would have done more, if it had not been hindred by that horrible rebellion of the bloody Irish, in the beginning of which many of them which were already built have been destroyed by those barbarians.

Many of those little loughs have a little island in the midst, which is both commodious and pleasant. Some wherein little islands do float, not keeping long any certain place, but removing to and fro as the force of the wind doth drive them.

Of the middle sort of Loughs.

THE middle sort of loughs we understand to be such as far exceeding the forementioned in bigness, nevertheless are not to be compared with the biggest sort, of which we shall speak presently; of this kind are Lough Fin and Lough Dirg in the county of Dunnagal in Ulster, Lough Mugney in the county of Monaghan, and Lough Silline in the county of Cavan, both in the same province; Lough Ramore in east Meath besides several others in other counties of Leinster, especially in Queen's county, Longford, and west Meath, having little or nothing worthy of observation.

Of the great Loughs, and first of those of salt Water

THE great loughs are of two sorts, either of sweet water, as all the former; and some of salt water; these last being such through the mixture of the sea, the which finding an open entrance, and twice a day with the tide fully flowing into them, maketh the water so salt. And it would be no great error to take all those loughs wherein that happeneth, (viz. Lough Cone, in the county of Down, Lough Foyle, in the county of Colrain; Lough Swilly, in Tirconnel, and the lough of Cork) rather for inlets of the sea than for lakes, altho' the inhabitants hold them all to be loughs, and give them the name of loughs: and in this number is also to be put that great lough betwixt Limerick and the sea, through which the Shannon dischargeth it self into the sea; of the which we have already spoke once or twice heretofore.

Of Lough Earn, Lough Neagh, and the rest of the great Loughs.

AMONGST the great loughs of sweet water, are far the principallest Lough Earn and Lough Neagh, the first of which is situated in the confines of Ulster and Connaught, being in effect two different loughs, joined together only by a short and narrow channel, of which two, that which lieth farthest within


the land, doth extend it self in a manner directly north and south; but the second, which is next to the sea, doth lye east and west; so that both together they have the fashion of a bended elbow, being both very broad in the midst, growing by degrees narrower towards both the ends.

Lough Neagh lyeth in the north easterly part of Ulster, bordering upon the counties of Tyrone, Ardmagh, Down, Antrim, and Colrain, being of a round, or rather somewhat oval figure.

Next in bigness to these two is Lough Corrie, the same on whose nether end the city Galloway is seated. The two loughs thorough which the Shannon passeth, Lough Ree, and Lough Dirg item, Lough Fingarrow in Connaught, betwixt the counties of Mayo and Roscommon.

In the last place, as the least of this sort, are Lough Allen, out of which the Shannon taketh his original, being nine miles long, and three miles broad: Lough Maske, situated betwixt Lough Fingarrow and the lough of Galloway; and Lough Larne, in the county of Kerry in Munster, not far from the upper end of those two famous bays Dingle and Maire. The least of these is some miles long and broad, and many miles in circuit, but the biggest are of so vast a compass, that they are more like a sea than a lough.

Of the Islands in the Loughs.

MOST of these great loughs are very full of little islands, and above all Lough Earn, in which the same are numberless. In Lough Cone also there is so great a number, that those who inhabit about it, affirm them to be two hundred and threescore. Lough Ree, and Lough Dirg are likewise very full of them, and there is also a good many in Lough Fingarrow, Lough Larne, and Swilly. But Lough Foyle is very free from them, and in the lough of Cork there is not above one or two, as likewise in Lough Neagh, in which they lye near to the sides, leaving the midst altogether free.

Very few of these islands are inhabited or planted; but the most part being plentifully cloathed with very sweet grass, serve for pastures to sheep and other cattle, the which do thrive wonderfully well in them, and the same befalleth also in the middle sort of loughs, amongst which likewise there be very few that have not some of these little islands in them.

In some few of these islands, especially of Lough Earn and Lough Ree, are some dwellings, whereunto persons who love solitariness were wont to retire themselves, and might live there with much contentment, as finding there not only privacy and quietness, with opportunity for studies and contemplations, but there besides great delightfulness in the place it self, with variety of very sweet pastimes in fowling, fishing, planting and gardening. In one of the greatest islands of Lough Earn, sir Henry Spoteswood had a fine seat, with goodly buildings, gardens, orchards, and a pretty little village, with a church and steeple belonging to it, which whether it is in being yet, or destroyed by the barbarians and bloody rebels, I am not informed. In Lough Silline in the county


of Cavan in an island not far from the bank where the river Nanny runneth into it, is a castle built of form four square, which covereth the whole isle, much after the manner of the fort Enniskilling in Lough Earn, and so many more too long to be rehearsed.

Of Saint Patrick's Purgatory.

ONE of these little islands situated in Lough Dirg (one of the middle sort of loughs) hath been very famous, for the space of some ages, over almost all Christendom; because the world was made to believe, that there was the suburbs of purgatory, into which whoso had the courage to go, and remain there the appointed time, did see and suffer very strange and terrible things: which persuasion having lasted until our times, the matter hath been discovered within these few years, and found to be a meer illusion. This discovery was made during the government of Richard Boyle, earl of Cork, and Adam Loftus, viscount of Ely, and lord chancellor of Ireland which two being lords justices of that kingdom in the last years of king James, and desirous to know the truth of the business, sent some persons of quality to the place, to inquire exactly into the truth of the whole matter. These did find, that that miraculous and fearful cave, descending down to the very purgatory and hell, was nothing else but a little cell, digged or hewn out of the rocky ground, without any windows or holes, so as the door being shut one could not see a jot within it, being of so little depth, that a tall man could but just stand upright in it, and of no greater capacity, than to contain six or seven persons. Now when that any person desirous to go that pilgrimage to purgatory, was come into the island, the friars, some small number whereof made their constant abode there for that purpose, made him watch and fast excessively whereby, and through the recounting of strange and horrible apparitions and fantasms, which he would meet withal in that subterranean pilgrimage, being well prepared, they did shut him up in that little dark hole, and being drawn out again from thence after some hours, altogether astonished and in a maze, he would be a good while before he came again to himself, and afterwards the poor man would tell wonderful stories, as if in very deed he had gone a great way under the ground, and seen and suffered all those things, which his weak imagination, altogether corrupted by the concurrence and sequel of so many causes to weaken the brain, did figure unto him.

To prevent this delusion in future times, the said lords justices caused the friars to depart from thence, their dwelling quite to be demolished, and the hole or cell to be broke open, and altogether exposed to the open air, in which state it hath lain ever since whereby that pilgrimage to purgatory is quite come to nothing, and never hath been undertaken since by any.

To beget the greater reputation to this fictitious purgatory, the people was made to believe, that Saint Patrick, by whom the Irish were converted to the christian faith about four hundred years after the nativity of Christ, had caused


the same, and obtained it of God by his prayers, to convince the unbelievers of the immortality of the soul, and of the torments which after this life are prepared for the wicked persons, wherefore also they gave it the name of Saint Patrick's purgatory. But it is very certain, that nothing of it was known in Ireland during the life of that holy person, nor in a huge while after, it having been devised some ages after his death, when that the general darkness of the times ministred a great opportunity of such like inventions, to those kind of men that knew how to abuse the blind devotion of ignorant and superstitious people to their own profit and filthy lucre.

Of the Property of Lough Neagh, of turning Wood into Stone.

BEFORE we make an end of this chapter, we must say something of the wonderful property which generally is ascribed to Lough Neagh, of turning wood into stone; whereunto some do add, to double the wonder, that the wood is turned not only into stone, but into iron, and that a branch or pole being stuck into the ground somewhere by the side where it is not too deep, after a certain space of time one shall find that piece of the stick which stuck in the ground, turned into iron, and the middle, as far as it was in the water, into stone; the upper end, which remained above the water, keeping its former nature. But this part of the history I believe to be a fable: for my brother, who hath been several times in places not far distant from that lough, and who of the English thereabouts inhabiting hath enquired this business with singular diligence, doth assure me, that he never could learn any such thing; but that the turning of wood into stone was by everyone believed for certain, as having been tried divers times by several persons: saying moreover to have understood of them, that the water hath this vertue only at the sides, and that not everywhere, but only in some few places, especially about that part where the river Blackwater dischargeth herself into the lough. He could never come to speak with any persons, who themselves had tried this matter; but with several, who affirmed, that to their knowledge it had certainly been done by others of their acquaintance. For further confirmation of this particular (which in it self is credible enough, seeing that in many parts of the world there are found waters indued with that vertue) serveth, that here and there upon the borders of that lough are found little stones of a pretty length, some of them round in their compass, others flat, or flattish, and some angulous, the which being looked on, as well near as from afar off, seem to be nothing else but wood, and by every one are taken for such, until one come to touch and handle them. For then by their coldness, hardness and weight, it appeareth that they are not wood but stone: whereby it may probably be conjectured, that the same formerly having been wood indeed, and so having kept their old shape and fashion, in length of time have been turned in to a stony substance by the vertue of that water, whereto they were fallen through the one accident or other.


Giraldus writeth, to have heard of a well or fountain in the north quarters of Ulster, the which in seven years space turneth into stone the wood cast into it but seeing that no body now a days knoweth of any such well, and that with all my enquiries I could never come to hear any news of it, I will believe, that Giraldus hath been misinformed, and that they have told him that of a well which was proper unto this lough.