FERMANAGH LAKES AND MOUNTAINS

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

The surface is very uneven, and presents great varieties both of soil and aspect. On the eastern verge of the county the land is elevated and sterile, and on the western still more so: indeed, with the exception of small portions in the north and south, the county may be said to consist of hills environed by mountains, and having its centre depressed into a great natural basin or reservoir, serving as a receptacle for the numerous rivers and streams from the higher grounds, whose accumulated waters form one of the noblest lakes in Ireland. Of these mountains the most elevated is Cuilcagh, which, though generally considered as belonging to Leitrim and Cavan, has its lofty eastern extremity, 2188 feet high, altogether in Fermanagh.

The Slievebaught or Slabby mountain, which forms the boundary towards Monaghan and Tyrone, extends far westward into this county, and, in like manner, that of Barnesmore in Donegal penetrates southward into it. The most conspicuous of the mountains which are wholly within the county is Belmore, 1312 feet high, between the Shannon and the Erne. Tosset, or Topped mountain, of inferior elevation, commands a range of prospects, which for grandeur, variety, and extent is not surpassed by any other in the north of Ireland. Turaw mountain, rising boldly from the waters of Lough Erne, forms a beautiful and striking feature of its scenery. The other mountains of remarkable elevation are Glenkeel near Derrygonnelly, 1223 feet; North Shean, 1135; Tappahan on the borders of Tyrone, 1110; and Carnmore near Rosslea, 1034 feet.

But the grand distinguishing characteristic of the county is Lough Erne, which extends forty miles from north-west to south-east, forming in reality two lakes, embayed by mountains and connected by a deep and winding strait, on an island in the centre of which stands the county town of Enniskillen.

Of the two lakes, the northern or lower, between Belleek and Enniskillen, is the larger, being upwards of 20 miles in length, and 7 ½ in its greatest breadth; the southern or upper, between the latter town and Belturbet, is 12 miles long by 4 ½ broad. Both are studded with numerous islands, which in some parts of the upper lake are clustered so closely together as to present the appearance rather of a flooded country than of a spacious lake. It is a popular opinion that the number of these islands equals that of the days in the year; but accurate investigation has ascertained that there are 109 in the lower lake, and 90 in the upper.

The largest is Bo or Cow island, near the northern extremity of the upper lake; it takes its name from being mostly under pasture. Ennismacsaint, also in the upper lake, is noted for a burying-ground, which is held in great veneration; Devenish island, in the same lake, near Enniskillen, is particularly remarkable for its ancient round tower and other relics of antiquity, all of which are described in the article on the parish of that name.

The other more remarkable islands in this division are Eagle, Innisnakill, and Gully, all richly wooded; Cor and Ferney, mostly under pasture, and Herring island, said to derive its name from the quantities of fresh-water herring found near its shores.

Innismore, the largest island in the upper lake, forms part of the two nearest parishes on the main land. Belleisle has long been celebrated for its natural beauties, which were much heightened by the judicious improvements they received when it was the residence of the Earl of Rosse: it is connected with the main land by an elegant bridge.

Near it is Lady Rosse's island, so called from the improvements bestowed on it by that lady. Knockninny was used as a deer-park by the nobleman just named. In descending the lake from Belturbet, the first two miles present the appearance of a large river winding through the county without any striking features to arrest attention; but as the lake widens, a succession of rich and picturesque views opens upon the eye. The banks on each side, as well as the islands that present themselves in rapid succession, are clothed with stately timber, which rises boldly from the water's edge, occasionally interrupted by sweeps of low marsh overgrown with rushes and enlivened by herons and other aquatic fowl.

After narrowing in to the strait of Enniskillen, and expanding again into a still wider sheet of water in the lower lake, it is finally contracted into a river which quits the county at the village of Belleek in a magnificent fall. The lakes called Lough Melvin, Lough Macnean, and Lough Kane, which form part of the boundary between Fermanagh and Leitrim, may be considered as partly belonging to the former county.

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