For hundreds of years the loughs (or lakes) of Ireland have provided safety and sustenance, been home to ancient secrets, and offered enjoyable outings for locals and visitors alike. Though it’s likely your trip to Ireland will include coastal scenery, you should really add a day of fun and exploration at a lough to your itinerary.

5 PLACES TO SPEND A DAY AT THE LOUGH IN IRELAND

Though Ireland’s lakes have a few things in common – beautifully clear water, local legends (usually involving a ghost), and plenty of white swans gliding along the water’s edge – these 5 loughs offer more than just a glittering patch of water in Ireland’s verdant landscape.

IRELAND’S ANCIENT HISTORY FOUND AT LOUGH GUR

The entrance to the land of the faeries

We’v yet to find an area in Ireland more steeped in Irish history than Lough Gur. Most visitors to Ireland drive past Lough Gur with no idea of the over 6,000 years of history that lies in this secluded spot of County Limerick. After visiting the gifted storytellers at Lough Gur Heritage Centre, the land nearly vibrates with life, the folklore feeling more real as you stand in the remains of Neolithic villages, climb to Hangman’s Rock, peer into the dolman known as Giant’s Grave, or reverently touch the stones of The Grange stone circle.

Other activities at Lough Gur: Guided tours, rambling house sessions, historical speakers, and plays at HoneyFitz Theatre.

Recommended lodging: Enjoy luxury lodging and a spectacular breakfast at The Old Bank B&B in Bruff. Miriam is a gem when it comes to local activities and can recommend and assist with any bookings you might need.

INSPIRING ART AT LOUGH BOORA PARKLANDS

The Sky Train Sculpture

As you wander the parklands that now surround Lough Boora in County Offaly it’s almost impossible to imagine these lands as the cutaway peat bog it once was. The parklands are now filled with natural and manmade lakes, woodlands, and wetlands, ribboned with walkways and cycling paths. It is along these paved trails that you will find some of the most inspiring public art in Ireland. Incorporating the area’s history and envisioning its future, the large-scale sculptures will impress even those who usually don’t enjoy sculpture.

Other activities at Lough Boora Parklands: Wildlife and bird watching (don’t forget bread to feed the ducks!), fishing, bike hire available, Mesolithic site.

Recommended lodging: You can’t go wrong at Ardmore Country House in nearby Kinnity. Mention that you are visiting the parklands and Chris will send along bread for the ducks.

LOUGH ERNE IS A PARADISE FOR WATER BUGS AND LANDLUBBERS

Ancient carved figures on Boa Island

Stretching the length of County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, Upper and Lower Lough Erne neatly split the county in half. The lakes themselves, devoid of commercial traffic, are a relaxing haven for boaters and anglers. If you prefer to just sit and enjoy nature, a secluded spot will bring plentiful bird watching and wildlife sightings. If you don’t have access to a boat, drive around lower Lough Erne and absorb the decades of history – the 12th century Monastery on Devenish Island, the more ancient carved stones on Boa Island, the eerie remains of Castle Caldwell and its ties to the nearby village of Belleek, famous for its pottery.

Other activities at Lough Erne: The town of Enniskillen is rich in military history. Visit Enniskillen Castle and the RAF Castle Archdale. Marble Arch Caves Geopark surrounds the lough and includes the Marble Arch Caves, Drumskinny Stone Circle, Boa Island, Castle Caldwell Forest Park, and Florence Court.

Recommended Lodging: The town of Enniskillen sits in the heart of County Fermanagh, in between the two lakes. Rent a lough-side, self-catering cottage at Killyhevlin Resort for a private, tranquil getaway.

HOLLYWOOD CAME TO IRELAND AT LOUGH CORRIB

If you’re a fan of The Quiet Man, the area surrounding Lough Corrib in County Galway is definitely on your list of places to visit. The natural gateway to the Connemara region, Lough Corrib’s scenery is some of the most beautiful in Ireland. The lough, which is said to have 365 islands, is a popular destination for boaters and you’ll find a few options for cruise tours.

Other activities at Lough Corrib: If you’ve come for The Quiet Man experience, begin at the replica cottage in Cong. Pick up a map of the movie sites, and wander the village before exploring further afield.

Recommended lodging: Treat yourself like a star and stay at Ashford Castle, on the shores of Lough Corrib.

LOUGH LEANE AND LAKES WITH ROYAL VIEWS

The largest of the famed ‘Lakes of Killarney,’ Lough Leane translates to “Lake of Learning” and is home to the monastery on Innisfallen where Brian Boru is said to have been educated before becoming Ireland’s most famous High King. Ross Castle, on the shore of Lough Leane, was the last stronghold in Munster to fall to Cromwell. But it is for another royal that the views over the Lakes of Killarney are famous. The Ladies View is named for Queen Victoria’s Ladies-in-Waiting who much admired the scenic views over Killarney’s lakes.

Other activities at Lough Leane: located in the heart of Killarney National Park and along the Ring of Kerry, the area offers abundant opportunities for orienteering, hill walking, pony trekking and jaunting cart rides. Ross Castle and Muckross House, both on the shores of Killarney’s lakes, can be accessed by car or pony cart, and are well worth touring.

Recommended lodging:  You’ll find no one who knows the area better than Noreen at Mystical Rose B&B. She will gladly help with tours, offer dining recommendations, and recommend sites most tourists miss.

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