Lower Lough Erne which, on a map, looks like it should be Upper Lough Erne, is a liquid paradise for boaters, fishermen, and escapists searching for tranquility. For those of us on land, a drive around the lough reveals its isolated treasures to those who take the time to search them out.
The Treasures of Lower Lough Erne
Leaving our cozy lough-side chalet in Enniskillen, we traveled along the east side of the lough. Because our day was set to end in Letterkenny, County Donegal, we bypassed the ferry for Devenish Island and Castle Archdale, which was a flying boat base during WWII. After a brief stop for traffic, we arrived at our first ‘hidden destination'.
Drumskinney Stone Circle and Alignment
Though not as large as the Grange Stone Circle near Lough Gur, the Drumskinney Stone Circle is unique as the site has the stone circle, a circular cairn, and an alignment to the center of the cairn and the rising winter solstice moon.
The site sits in the middle of a cattle field, so be respectful of the cattle and watch your step. A fence rings the monuments, allowing worry-free exploration. Publicly managed by the Ministry of Finance (MOF) since 1934, the stones are now marked MOF – a move I imagine the MOF wishes, in hindsight, that it could erase.
The Janus Figure on Boa Island
You barely notice when you have arrived on Boa Island at the northern point of Lower Lough Erne. A long, narrow strip of land, each end is connected by a short bridge. About mid-point of the island is Caldragh graveyard, where two stone carvings draw occasional visitors. The larger carving, called as a Janus figure for its two faces, has both a male and female side. Placed nearby is the ‘Lustyman' figure. Relocated to this cemetery from nearby Lustymore Island, this statue is thought to be older than the Janus figure and may have been a precursor to Sheela-na-gig carvings that can be found around Ireland.
Castle Caldwell Forest
It's likely we would have bypassed Castle Caldwell Forest if not for the grand main gate.
Under the assumption that only a great castle could have such a gate, we backtracked and entered. Driving in we saw a huge wall- proof that this had been an estate of some importance at one time. Parking in the visitors lot, we began following the forest pathways.
It was very quiet as we walked deeper into the forest, the trees filtering out light as we walked along the lough. We found remnants of walls that would have led to boat docks on the lough, but any view of a castle was hidden from us. At the fork of the pathway we chose the trail that led out of the trees, sure that a magnificent ruin was nearby.
It was, though we nearly passed it.
The forest has reclaimed Castle Caldwell, making the ruins both eerie and intriguing.
As you leave the parking area, the small chapel is definitely worth a look, as is the Fiddler's Stone at the front gate, a commemorative stone for Denis McCabe, a fiddler who drowned when entertaining guests of Sir James on a lake barge.
Though not a ‘hidden' treasure, you want to be sure to stop at Belleek Pottery. Closely associated with Castle Caldwell, where the first experiments with local china clay were conducted, Belleek is the oldest and largest Irish Pottery. Even if you opt not to take the tour (or the option isn't available due to the timing of your visit), take a few minutes to visit the small museum and watch how Belleek Pottery is crafted. You'll leave with a new appreciation of how those stunning woven baskets are created.
Before you leave, step into the showroom. You can find a small memento for under £25 – or splurge a bit and leave with a basket.
Our tour of Lower Lough Erne ended here, as we crossed back into the Republic of Ireland and made our way to Donegal. If you choose to return to Enniskillen you'll find three castle ruins – Tully Castle, Monea Castle, and Portora Castle – along the route.