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Lough Corrib / Loch Coirib (178 km2), the largest lake in the Republic of Ireland and the second largest on the whole island (after Lough Neagh), is mostly in County Galway except for a small northeastern section in County Mayo. It is connected to the Atlantic Ocean by the short lower stretch of the River Corrib, which flows south through Galway City & Environs into Galway Bay.
(For those not exploring the lake by boat, the eastern shore can be reached from locations on ByRoute 13 and ByRoute 14; the western shore can be reached via the Iar Connacht / Moycullen route or from Joyce Country, which also takes in part of the northern shore.
Contrary to the traditional number of 365, Lough Corrib in fact has over 1200 islands.
Inchagoill / Inchaguill / Inchagill (Inis An Ghaill – “island of the stranger / foreigner”) (104 acres) , the fourth largest island in Lough Corrib, is situated approximately half way between Cong and Oughterard (4.5 miles from each). It is heavily wooded and has spectacular views of the Maumturk range, Joyce Country and the mountains of Connemara.
Sir William Wilde, in his book Lough Corrib, its Shores & Islands (1867), describes Inchagoill as “by far the most interesting island on the lake; and, if we said one of the most remarkable spots on Irish ground, we should not fear to take up the gauntlet in it’s favour, for picturesque scenery, grand mountain views, and existing historic monuments”.
Roderick O’Flaherty wrote in 1684 that “Inis a’ Ghaill was so called of a certain holy person who there lived of old, known only by the name of An Gall Croibhtheach, ie the devout foreigner; for Gall (i.e. of the Gallick nation), they call every foreigner.”, and added that it “hath two chapels, the one dedicated to St Patrick, the other to the saint of whom the island is named, which admits not the burial of any body, but in the first it is usual to bury.”
Saint Patrick and his nephew Lugnad (who was also his navigator) are said to have come to the northern shores of Lough Corrib in the middle of the C5th to spread Christianity, and were banished by powerful druidsto this island.
The Stone of Lugnad / Lugnaedon, a four sided obelistic pillar thought to have been used as a corbel stone in the nearby church, bears what some claim is the oldest Christian inscription in Ireland, or even Europe (apart from those found in the catacombs of Rome). Written in the Uncial of old Latin character, reproduced by careful rubbing it reads perpendicularly “Lia Lugnaedon Macc Lmenueh” – “The stone of Lugnad Son of Limanue” (identified as Saint Darerca/ Liamhain / Liamania, recorded in hagiographies as Saint Patrick’s sister). Lugnad is believed to have died while constructing the church, and was presumeably buried nearby. The stone now stands 2’4” over the ground as a headstone to a grave.
Teampall Phaidrig / St Patrick’s church, a small plain stone edifice with a narrow square headed doorway, believed to date from the C5th, stands close to the Stone.
Teampall na Naoimh / Teampall na Neave / the church of the saint(s), the first building that comes into view on approach from the pier, is believed to have been built by the Agustinian monks of Cong c.1180 AD as a place of peace and quiet to meditate and pray. The church is built of sandstone, with a Romanesque arch around the doorway depicting the heads of the ten saints of Lough Corrib. On the outer and inner tiers of the doorway, at shoulder height are heads with platted beards, believed to be of Greek influence, while the centre tiers display carving of French design. Just inside the doorway a Byzantine cross is one of many other carvings on the walls and upon the flagstones. The altar is still intact, together with a very early water font. Baptisms are occasionally carried out here to this day. (Photo by ppjordan)
Muirgeas O’ Nioc, an early C12th archbishop of Tuam, was buried in 1128 beneath a big square stone structure to the north of the church.
Wilde wrote: “where the island narrows towards its centre, an extensive graveyard, in an ancient ecclesiastical enclosure, marks where, so long as there were any of the name left in the country, the Kinnaveys, Conways, Sullivans, Murphys, Lyddans, Butlers and others interred their dead: and many a wild wail of the Irish keen has floated over the surrounding waters, as the funeral procession of boats, with their picturesquely clad freights, approached the shore of this sacred isle.”
Benjamin Lee Guinness purchased Inchagoill as part of the Ashford Castle estate in 1852. At that time there were still four families living on 80 acres of farm land in the centre of the Island with 50 acres of high trees as shelter all around. Eighty years later the only resident was Thomas Nevin, employed as a caretaker from 1931 to 1948, who had contracted malaria fighting at Gallipoli during WWI. He led quiet life on the island, with only his dog and a dry battery radio for company. About every two weeks Tommie would row a small boat to Cong or Oughterard and return in the dark, using the lights of Ashford Castle as his compass.
There are several paths around the island, taking in the woods, several secluded beaches and remains of four or five cottages.
Many families push the boat out and head to this island on warm summer days with barbecue in tow. Others board the Princess Queen or the Lady Ardilaun, run by Corrib Ferries. Here they stay for the entire day just relaxing and enjoying the tranquillity.
Castle Kirke, Hen’s Island (Photo by ppjordan)
Rabbit Island (26 acres) has a fishing lodge built by Lord Headley in 1906. Accessed from Kenny’s Bay, a 10 minute drive from Headford town, the island is owned by a UK businessman, and available for holiday rental. The lodge can fit five comfortably; the €1,500 a week rent includes use of a 19ft motorised lake boat
Lough Corrib is home to an abundance of wildlife including birds and hawks, otters, mink, stoat, frogs, bats and much more. The “Dawn Chorus” in early spring is spectacular to listen to.
Lough Corrib can be divided into two parts: a smaller shallower basin to the south and a larger deeper basin to the north. These two parts are connected by a narrow channel. In the southern and eastern parts of the lake the lake bed is dominated by limestone bedrock covered by deposits of precipitated marl. The surrounding land is mostly pastoral farmland to the south and east and bog to the west and north. In addition to the lake basis, some areas of scientific interest adjoining the lake e.g. woodland, callows grassland and raised bog, have been incorporated into the site. The lake supports one of the largest areas of wetland vegetation in the country. This vegetation is best developed in the shallower southern basin of the lake just north of Galway City. The shallow lime-rich waters in this area support the most extensive beds of Charaphytes in Ireland. These beds are an important source of food for wildfowl.
The uncontrolled discharge of sewage, particularly into the southern part of the lake, is causing nutrient pollution. Other threats to habitat quality are wildfowling (causing disturbance to birds) and increasing pressure from fishing and from lakeshore developments such as hotels, holiday homes and marinas.
The Zebra Mussel – a native of the Black and Caspian Seas – which has already colonised the Erne and Shannon waterways is highly destructive to various fish species including the world famous wild brown trout of Lough Corrib. Zebra mussels can filter as much as 1 litre of water per day through their gills. They remove phytoplankton, small zooplankton and bacteria amongst other things. As a result of this activity, the food web of their new habitat is changed. Studies have shown that this leads to reductions in different populations of fish. Zebra mussels attach onto the shells of swan mussels, preventing them from feeding, resulting in death of the swan mussels.