A singular place, Enniskillen is more than the sum of its many charms. The island of Ireland’s only island town, it inhabits one of over 150 islands on Lough Erne, midway between the upper and lower lough connected by River Erne.
That island-town status has shaped both the settlement and the “townies” who were born between its bridges. Its origins as a trading post valuable enough to require fortification, and its later importance as an agricultural market hub, are felt in the pulse of its main street, lively with independent shops, cafés and restaurants.
This is a town of bridges and jetties, where boats and barges share the Broadmeadow shoreline with broods of swans, ducks and other water waders. It’s a place of laneways leading to craft village courtyards or community-supported baker stalls, overseen by colourful street art with stories to share.
You can shop for fishing tackle, hip flasks or other essentials in the family-run Home, Field & Stream store, browse numerous charity shops for vintage finds, and pick up superlative sausages or Black Bacon for your breakfast. Pop into the snug of a heritage pub for a quiet one – or maybe a rowdy one, if there’s a trad session in swing.
Fermanagh’s border location also makes it a great base to explore Donegal to the northwest, Cavan and Leitrim to the southwest, or Tyrone and Monaghan to the east – or even daytrip to the Wild Atlantic Way or Causeway Coastal Route.
St Macartin's Cathedral, Enniskillen
This island town’s history rises to meet you on even the briefest of strolls through its walkable streets and intriguing museums. The call of the water is strong but it’s worth taking time for the stories of the land, too. Step into Headhunters on the main street and trip back to the heyday of rail travel, in this family-run barber shop’s labour-of-love railway museum.
Back outside, look up for the hundreds of gilded swallows adorning rooftops and walls in a nod to The Happy Prince tale of Oscar Wilde, who was schooled here in Portora Royal School – and down to spot granite paving stones embossed with “Walking on Words” riddles that give clue to local landmarks and culture.
View from Enniskillen Castle
Fermanagh County Museum at Enniskillen Castle
At Enniskillen Castle, a cheerful welcome awaits at the visitor information centre, genealogy centre and Castle Cafe that rub shoulders with twin museums – the Inniskillings Museum honouring the town’s military history, and the millennia-spanning Fermanagh County Museum.
Where else can you marvel at a model of a prehistoric crannóg island settlement, a real-life block of 1,000-year-old bog-preserved butter, and a video about Lough Erne’s 6th-century island monastic sites – before heading past a penny-farthing bicycle and a pair of famine workhouse shoes, upstairs to a light-filled art gallery?
Here you’ll find masterful paintings from local legends like William Scott, whose still-life style evolves from realist to abstract, or TP Flanagan, whose watercolour landscapes were admired by poet and friend Seamus Heaney for expressing the “delicacy and down-to-earthness” of their creator. All of these treasures are housed within the walls of what began as a medieval stronghold of the Gaelic Maguires, became fortified as a Plantation Castle and later housed a military barracks.
Angela Kelly Jewellery
“People love to take a little bit of the land home with them,” says jeweller and silversmith Angela Kelly. Her glass-fronted workshop greets you at the entrance to The Buttermarket, an atmospheric cluster of craft, design and art studios set around the converted courtyard of a 19th-century dairy market.
At Angela Kelly Jewellery, inspiration comes from Irish gemstones, fossils and rocks like Fermanagh Marbled Coral from riverbeds on Cuilcagh Mountain, cut, polished and set into “little works of art”, finished with Celtic flourishes.
Next door Ken McBride, professional photographer turned leather worker, transforms hides of full-grain leather into characterful McBride Leather wallets, custom-fit belts and even matching collars for dogs, with landscape-inspired design features.
The Fermanagh card holder nods to the true source of the Shannon in the county’s east Cuilcagh Mountains, where it plunges underground before re-emerging in County Cavan. Eight distinct stitches on The Enniskillen belt represent the town’s eight bridges, its raw leather edges seasoned with local Inishmacsaint beer.
The Buttermarket is full of such “momentos of the land”, which is what Tracey Whitehead of EweMomma calls the rainbow-hued skeins of yarn lining her pot-of-gold wool shop. Tracey’s own hand-dyed yarns are despatched in her Buttermarket dye studio.
Visitors also love the yarns “dyed like the Irish landscape”: from Studio Donegal Woollen Mill in Kilcar, where woollen textiles traditions date to the 1700s, or Cushendale, one of two remaining Irish woollen mills collecting Irish fleece to dye, spin and weave.
John McGahern, one of Ireland’s greatest writers and celebrants of rural life, loved nothing more than a trip to Enniskillen, where his favourite pub, Blake’s of The Hollow, remains “one of the happiest and most beautiful bars in the whole of Ireland”. Its patterned floor tiles were a replica of those in the nearby Catholic church (a common cross-over of tradesmen skills in Ireland), if “more cracked and worn than the church tiles” thanks to its greater footfall – while its dragon-festooned Games of Thrones® door is a newer addition.
Bread at Folk
You may find manager Mark Edwards behind that white marble counter today, unless it’s a Saturday when he’s leading his weekly Enniskillen Taste Experience walking food tour. It’s an entertaining way to get the lay of the land, a bellyful of fine food and a world-class local tipple or two. Meet sourdough star, Joe the Baker whose Bread Table pops up in Paget Lane on Friday mornings, or his neighbour, chef Marty McAdam of The Street Kitchen (and Great British Menu).
Sample a tasting plate hot from The Firehouse’s charcoal oven, washed down with Boatyard Double Gin flavoured with local sweet gale, or Stewart’s Butchers famous sausages paired with a fruity Amber IPA from Inishmacsaint Brewery. Kick back at 28 at The Hollow, where the talented Glen Wheeler is a protégé of celebrated chef Neven Maguire (from nearby MacNean House and Restaurant across the county border in Blacklion, Co Cavan).
Enniskillen Taste Experience
And that’s just a taster of Enniskillen’s gastro highlights. Think traditional tray-bakes from The Jolly Sandwich, or glorious laminated pastries from Folk bakery. Greek mezze from Dollakis, or Mullaghmore lobster at Franco’s Restaurant. Black bacon from rare-breed pigs reared on their own private island by O’Doherty’s Fine Meats, or Tickey Moo farmhouse ice cream from a happy Jersey herd at Ruby’s cafe.
© Tourism Ireland
There are many fun ways to access the beauty that lies beyond the island town’s shores. Explore the shoreline by electric passenger vessel, hydrobike or kayak. Head for the open lough in a hired boat or guided water taxi, to visit Devenish Island's remarkable monastic site and round tower or Boa Island’s ancient double-faced Janus stone figures.
Get up high for spectacular viewpoints or go underground at Marble Arch Caves in the Cuilcagh Lakelands UNESCO Global Geopark. Fill your lungs in mountain bogland (Cuilcagh Boardwalk Trail), National Trust estates (Castle Coole or Florence Court) or local forest parks with their megalithic tombs, castle ruins and historic flying boat bases. Or test your handicap at Lough Erne Resort’s choice of golf courses.
Add visits to Fermanagh Fun Farm, Boatyard Distillery, Belleek Pottery, The Organic Centre and Ulster American Folk Park, and you’ll find plenty of action amongst all that natural beauty. No wonder Enniskillen is becoming one of Ireland’s most popular destinations: a singular place, with a personality like no other.
Finn Lough Bubble Dome
© Tourism Ireland
Enniskillen makes a brilliant base for exploring the surrounding lakelands and counties, whether by road or water. Not every local holiday home has its own private jetty, as Inishclare Cottages do (their Riverside Cottage throws in spectacular views across to Enniskillen Castle), but plenty enjoy waterside views.
Whether you pitch up at Riverside Farm marina and caravan park or rock up to the four-star Killyhevlin Lakeside Hotel & Lodges with its spa, pool and health club, or to five-star Lough Erne Resort with its golf club and dining choices, access to the shoreline is a wonderfully common amenity.
For something unforgettable, escape to Finn Lough Forest Hideaway on the northern shoreline of Lough Erne Lower and sleep under the stars bed an extraordinary bubble dome. Or to stay within a stroll of the town centre’s lively pubs and restaurants, The Westville Hotel and Belmore Court and Motel make convenient and comfortable options.