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County Armagh derives great benefits from the southern shores of Lough Neagh and the Craigavon lakes, near exit 10 off the M1, are popular for watersports, fishing and bird watching.
The Lough Neagh Discovery Centre at the Oxford Island Peninsula, part of a National Nature Reserve, has audiovisual, computer and interactive displays about the Lough’s history, wildlife, walking trails and birdwatching and a cafe and craft shop.
The Centre also has bird hides set up on the reedy edge of the Lough from which you can see ferruginous and ring-necked ducks, red-crested pochard, smew, great-crested grebes, herons and whooper and Bewick’s swans, which breed nearby.
Many other birds live in the grasslands and wet meadows around the Reserve including blackcap, grasshopper warblers and redwing. The Centre also runs guided birdwatching and educational events throughout the year.
Lough Neagh is a freshwater that dominates the landscape of Northern Ireland. With an area of 392 square kilometres it is the largest lake in the British Isles and ranks among the forty largest lakes in the whole of Europe. Located twenty miles (30 km) to the west of Belfast, it is approximately twenty miles (30 km) long and nine miles (15 km) wide. It is very shallow around the margins and the average depth in the main body of the lake is about 9 m (30 ft); although at its deepest the lough is about 25 metres (80 ft) deep.
Five of the six Counties of Northern Ireland have shores on the Lough: Antrim, Armagh, Down, Derry and Tyrone. Although the Lough is used for a variety of recreational and commercial activities, it is exposed and tends to get extremely rough very quickly in windy conditions. It is also used as a source of fresh water by Northern Ireland Water. Plans to increase the amount of water drawn from the Lough, through a new water treatment works at Hog Park Point, have long been planned but are yet to materialise.
Traditional working boats on Lough Neagh include wide-beamed 16 21 ft clinker-built, sprit-rigged working boats and smaller flat-bottomed “cots” and “flats”. Barges, here called “lighters”, were used up to the 1940s to transport coal over the lough and adjacent canals. Up to the 17th century, log boats (coit ) were the main means of transport, some of which are as old as 6,400 years. Few traditional boats are left now, but a community-based group on the southern shore of the lough is rebuilding a series of working boats.
The lake is a Mecca for leisure activities, including sailing, windsurfing, paragliding, swimming and fishing. There are many holiday homes built on the shores of the lake and it provides much needed tourist revenue to the towns and villages located around it.