County Fermanagh (from the Irish, Contae Fir Manach) is the only county in the north of Ireland that doesn’t converge with Lough Neagh. A number of lakes do, however, flood the plain. The River Erne drains the Upper and Lower Lough Erne; the shortest stretch of the river, upon which the county town of Enniskillen sits almost exactly in the centre, bridges the two.
Dramatic contrasts in the landscape as you head inland prove that Ireland doesn’t always conform to the ideal: where you’d expect rolling hills and lush countryside, here the landscape is spiky and water-logged. Which isn’t to say everything isn’t in order, because it very much is. Driving into Fermanagh, fields on fields on fields, all perfect squares, enter into this new vision of Ireland. Perky hills, sloping into small valleys, are consumed by clear, wide lakes.
A varied and inexplicable waterway constituting countless peninsulas and inlets jags the land in that varied and inexplicable way of the natural world, unconventional yet immaculate in its beauty. Perfect for boat trips, canoeing and water skiing, Fermanagh’s waterways afford numerous opportunities to venture into any of the hundreds of tiny inland islands that dot the west of the country, most of which are ripe and ready for exploration.
Lusty Beg Island is probably the best known of these, and, having been bought, sold and bought again as a tourist destination for over sixty years, it is certainly the best equipped. The largest of all of them, Boa Island, is shackled to the mainland at both ends. A small cluster of Celtic stone figures, most found within the island graveyard, evidence early Christian and pre-Christian ritualism. Eight mysterious, outward facing figures, each with its own, distinct expression, are carved into the walls of the ruined church on nearby White Island.
The Marble Arch Caves, an underground labyrinth of connecting, limestone enclaves and Enniskillen’s finest attraction, are effortlessly travailed on foot and by boat (a tour of the cave lasts approximately an hour and fifteen minutes). Highlights include the cool, calm, eerie reflection of the caves themselves and the Moses Walk, in which the path on both sides descends five feet below the level of the water.
Unmissable Attractions County Fermanagh
1. Enniskillen Castle Museums (Opening Times vary from month to month. For details call this number: (028) 6632 5000) Prices: Adults £4.00 / Senior citizens and students £3.00 / Children (5-16) £3.00 (children under 5 go free) / Family (2 adults and 3 children) £11.00
2. Castle Coole Gardens (Opening Times: Monday to Friday from 10.00 a.m. – 7.00 p.m.)
3. Castle Archdale Country Park (Opening Times vary from month to month. For details call this number: 028 6862 1588)
4. Florence Court Gardens and Park (Opening Times: Monday to Sunday from 10.00 a.m. – 7.00 p.m.)
5. Marble Arch Caves (Opening Times: Monday to Sunday from 10.00 a.m. – 4.30 p.m.) Prices: £8.50 / Children £5.50 / Senior citizens and students £5.75
6. Sheelin Irish Lace Museum (Opening Times: Monday to Saturday from 10.00 a.m. – 6.00 p.m.)
7. Crom Estate Visitor Centre (Opening Times: Saturday and Sunday from 11.00 a.m. – 5.00 p.m.) Prices: Adults £5.45 / Children £1.81 / Family £12.72