Some 130 lakes in Monaghan

They may talk about the beauty of ŒThe Lakes of Killarneyı and they even call Westmeath ŒThe Lakeland Countyı, but there is one county that seems to have been completely over looked in practically all tourist literature and one that can equal the best of them - and that is Co. Monaghan.

Perhaps, because we are not rated as a ‘tourist area’ in the same sense as are Kerry, Mayo, Clare, Connemara and Donegal and perhaps because we have not had the politicians and the ‘pull’ that so successfully advertises the rest of the country, but the ‘Lakes of Co. Monaghan’ can rank with the very best of them and they are there for all to explore and to enjoy.

The largest and most beautiful of all Co. Monaghan lakes is Lough Muckno, which surrounds the town of Castleblayney on two sides. Often described as “The Killarney of the North’, it attracts thousands of visitors every year, both for its fishing and for its many sporting activities. Its beauty has been much appreciated for well over two centuries, as is evident from this piece written by the writer and historian C.J. Lewis in his magnificent ‘Topographical Dictionary of Ireland’ (1837), volume 1, page 290:-
“The mansion of Castle Blayney, the seat of Lord Blayney, is closely adjoining (the town) and is encompassed by a demesne of great extent and beauty, which includes the Lake of Mucknoe and some fine woodland scenery: It is a handsome modern edifice, built near the site of the old castle. The ruins of an ancient fortress in Cornero wood, on the shore of the lake are also within the demesne”.

The beauty of the area has been recorded in song by one if its own, the legendary and highly popular “Big Tom” McBride. For the angler’s interest, some twenty-six lakes are listed in the Castleblayney area, by the local Development Association. Muckno is right beside the town and is considered one of the best pike lakes in the country, and it also boasts of an abundance of perch, trout and rudd. In recent years Muckno has also been the venue for many international water-skiing competitions and the potential in this sphere is enormous. The other lakes in the area are mainly fishing lakes and abound in rudd, pike, perch and bream. Bream fishing is not considered that popular with Irish anglers and stocks of this fish, especially in Lough Dernaglug, are exceptionally good. Maggot bait is available locally at all times and there is rarely a charge or limitation on the amount of catch.

Ballybay is frequently described as “The Angler’s Paradise’ in tourist brochures, and rightly so, as it attracts countless fishermen from abroad every year, with the Germans proving particularly favourably inclined towards the many lakes in this mid-Monaghan area. Twenty-two lakes lie within a three-mile radius of Ballybay and these also abound in pike, bream, perch and rudd. Exceptionally fine bream are to be found here, and at one spot, fish averaging from four to six pounds have been landed. The bream abound especially in Coolderry Lake.

Beside the town, Lough Major, first stocked by the then Inland Fisheries Board as far back as 1953, provides rare entertainment for the trout fisherman. The charges for fishing are minimal while there is unrestricted fishing in many of the other local lakes. Ample bank-fishing is widely available, and on all the lakes in this area excellent fishing stands have been erected, with required tackle also locally available. All information needed can be obtained from the local Development people, who are extremely helpful and forthcoming when they are approached for information.

In the north of the county, adjacent to the county capital, Monaghan, there are some thirty lakes listed, some of them still unexplored and each and every one of them a heaven for the coarse angler. Believe it or not, one of them - Drumreaske Lake - was stocked with tench nearly a century ago and had been preserved as a fish sanctuary ever since. Two others, Lough Quig and Hollywood Lake, abound in large bream, rudd (which all locals call roach), perch and pike. In 1960, the local ‘Northern Standard’ newspaper carried a photograph of a thirty-five pounds pike caught in another of these Monaghan lakes, Lough Rooskey, and which had been landed by a fifteen years old boy, using a hazel rod cut from a hedge.

The ‘Convent Lake’ at Monaghan town is probably the first ever lake in the county to be mapped, as it appears on the 1600 map of Monaghan, and includes the crannog, which is listed as ‘McMahon’s House’. Right in the centre of the town is ‘Peter’s Lake’, named after an extremely generous Monaghan businessman, Peter McPhillips, who contributed so much to the building of St. Macartan’s Cathedral and St. Macartan’s Seminary during the 19th century. It was truthfully said of him that ‘he had a hand in the building of every Catholic church in the diocese of Clogher’. The town is also remarkable in that it is the only town in Ireland which has a lake to commemorate one if its most famous sons, where other towns erect statues or other such monuments.

Further north still, near Emyvale, nestles the beautiful Lough Emy, one of the largest lakes in the north of the county, and which is a Mecca for game fishermen. This lovely lake, often featured in music and song, was taken over by the then Inland fisheries Trust during the 1950s and was cleared of all coarse fish and stocked with trout, although the complete elimination of pike has posed something of a problem down through the years. At that time also, Lough Emy was listed as one of the best lakes for its size, for trout, in the entire country, There are several other smaller lakes in the same area such as Tully, Back Lough, Astrish, Glaslough lake and many others, all of which abound in coarse fish.

Emy Lough, which covers some 145 acres, has quite a history, as it was reputed that the great St. Enda, ‘The Tutor of the Gael’, had a cell on the crannog there before moving on to ‘found’ his famous monastery on the Aran Islands, while the crannog later became a stronghold and refuge of the McKenna clan, who were masters of the area for some five hundred years from the mid 12th century to the final overthrow of the Ulster chieftains in the 17th century. Currently, the Donagh Development Association is constructing a path-way around this lovely lake and, when completed, this should prove yet another major tourist attraction for this very scenic area.

In the north-west corner of Monaghan, deep into the Slieve Beagh (Bragan) mountains, lies the lovely Lough More, partly in Monaghan, partly in Tyrone. This lovely lake provides a water scheme for many north-Monaghan homes as well as for the Clogher Valley, north of the Border. An extremely deep lake, its waters are reputed to be the purest in the country, while it is also famed for being the burial place of the legendary ‘Shane Bernagh’, the rapparee who ‘robbed the rich to feed the poor’ in the three counties - Monaghan, Tyrone and Fermanagh. Betrayed by one of his own, he was eventually tracked down and killed, with his body being thrown into Lough More. Many poems and songs have been written about his exploits, and a glen in the area is still called ‘Shane Bearnagh’s Stables’.

As everyone knows, all our town-land names throughout Ireland, but particularly in the Ulster counties, are derived directly from the Irish language and their translations give us much valuable information on the geographical and historical traditions of each area. In the Bragan (Slieve Beagh) area, more that anywhere else, there are several lovely ‘high-bog’ lakes with Irish names that have never been diluted in any way and are still ‘pure Irish’. The most remarkable of these is ‘Lough Nablaneybane’, which is simply ‘Loch na Bleine Baine’, meaning ‘the lake of the white cove or inlet’. Not far away is Lough Bradan, from ‘Loch Bhradain’, meaning ‘the salmon lake’, and Lough Naheery, from ‘Loch an Aoire’, meaning the ‘shepherd’s lake’. You simply cannot get ‘more-Irish’ than that.

In the extreme south of the county, in the Carrickmacross area, where, as well as its remarkable tradition for lace-making, its reputation as a lake-fishing area is also rapidly rising to national, and international, importance. Near the town are three magnificent lakes - Lough Naglack, Lough Fea and Moynalty Lake, all of which have become very popular with the English coarse-fishing fraternity. Boats are always available for all of these lakes, just as they are in the Castleblayney, Ballybay, Monaghan and Emyvale areas, and these may be rented from local owners at very reasonable daily charges.

Between Carrickmacross and the village of Rockcorry is a host of small lakes, teaming with amazing quantities of trout, pike, perch, bream and rudd, and all within easy reach of all the aforementioned towns. This last plethora of lakes stretches right across the county from the Aughnamullen lakes, namely Lough Egish, Lough Bawn, Creeve lake, Shantonagh lake, Lough Avaghen and others, to Derrygooney Lough, Mullanary Lough, White Lough, and Inner Lough at Rockcorry, while near Clones is Bishop’s Lake, and near Smithboro is Lough Ooney, all with their own local reputations and histories. The crannog on Lough Ooney was a McMahon refuge and is probably the best preserved crannog in the county.

In fact, there are some one-hundred-and-thirty lakes in Co. Monaghan, and it would be impossible to name them all in this short article. Inevitably, some will have been left out, but a visitor to any of our towns or villages will soon be given all the information they require on these same lakes, whether for fishing, for scenery, or for water-sports, as there are no more friendly people than the country-folk of Co. Monaghan, even though we do say so ourselves.

Taken from Monaghan's Match
December 2004