Fermanagh is a county defined by water – one-third of it is covered by this pristine liquid. But this lakelands region has plenty to explore on dry land too, from stately houses to Cuilcagh Mountain and the echoing chambers of the Marble Arch Caves.
Water, water everywhere
Fermanagh is home to Europe’s longest network of waterways: 700km of rivers, canals and lakes that combine to make the perfect waterworld. You can fish (the lakes are world renowned for winter roach and pike). You can wake-board and water-ski. Or you can simply kick back and soak it all up.
Lough Erne is the largest in this maze of lakes. It’s a vast swelling in the River Erne that holds 154 islands – including Devenish Island, home to one of Northern Ireland’s finest monastic sites – and is pinched in the middle by the bustling town of Enniskillen.
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On the waterfront
Enniskillen splits the great lake in two, dividing it into Upper and Lower Lough Erne. It used to be the seat of Fermanagh’s powerful chieftains, the Maguires, who kept their own private navy of 1,500 boats to patrol the expansive waters.
Their Enniskillen Castle was the perfect place from which to spot approaching troublemakers – though today it houses the Fermanagh County Museum and the regimental museum of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.
More recent residents include literary greats, Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett, who attended Enniskillen’s famous Portora Royal School. They weren’t true Enniskilliners, however – for that honour, locals say you must be born “between the bridges” on the town’s core island: the Inis Ceithleann from which it takes its name.
And don’t miss the mile-long Main Street, a street that changes name six times as you walk!
Mountains and caves
Fermanagh is also home to Cuilcagh Mountain, a 665m peak which, on a clear day, offers views stretching from the Irish Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. Its distinctive shape – an abrupt plateau with flanks of steep cliffs – is the result of erosion in the limestone landscape, a geological wonderland and a Unesco-designated Geopark.
As well as hiking the hills, moors and forests above ground (not to mention the Palladian piles of Florence Court and Castle Coole), visitors can explore this unique geology underground with a tour of the Marble Arch Caves.
Beginning with a subterranean boat ride, and ending in vast caverns formed 650 million years back in time, the netherworld of chambers and passageways is the perfect way to get under Fermanagh’s skin.
Via the water, naturally.