West Cork's unique Lough Hyne - Whats On In West Cork

West Cork's unique Lough Hyne

David Caldwell 17:03 04 Jun 2021


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Ireland's first Marine Nature Reserve and unique sea-water lake, Lough Hyne is one of the most beautiful spots in West Cork and offers diving and water sports opportunities.

Few places capture the magic of West Cork better than Lough Hyne, or Loughine as it is sometimes spelled. The lough is entirely landlocked, except for a narrow channel in one corner, the Rapids, where water races in or out according to the sea level outside. At first sight Lough Hyne has all the appearance of a tranquil freshwater lake, which it probably was once before it was flooded by the rising sea. Woods fringe the water's edge along the western shore and the forested slopes of Lough Hyne Hill, or Knockomagh, rise up to the north. The lough is about 60 hectares in area and 50 metres deep. There is little rise and fall of tide, but the water is salt and the flora and fauna are those of the sea. Lough Hyne was probably a freshwater lake until about four millennia ago (2000 BC, during the Atlantic Bronze Age), when rising sea levels flooded it with saline ocean water. The lake is now fed by tidal currents that rush in from the Atlantic through Barloge Creek.

The unique environment is home to an incredible variety of invertebrates, fish and plants — including more than 100 sponges, 24 kinds of crab, 18 species of anemone and 72 kinds of fish — some of them found nowhere else in Ireland. It has been the object of scientific study for well over than 100 years and in 1981 was designated Ireland’s first and only Marine Nature Reserve.

There are holy wells and near the lakeside a ruined church of St Bridget. The small island in the centre of the lough with its barely discernible ivy-covered ruin is where the outcast Sir Fineen O’Driscoll ended his days. The discovery of a Viking brooch there in 2002 adds another intriguing dimension to the lough's history. The island is also popularly associated with the folk tale of Larry Long-Ears (the king with donkey ears). Today the lough, being almost entirely sheltered from strong winds, is popular for swimming, kayaking and diving (with permit from the Parks & Wildlife Service). The lanes beside the lough and the trails up Knockomagh are favourites for walking.

Find out about the history, folklore and formation of this renowned natural phenomenon at Skibbereen Heritage Centre before you visit the lough, (5km from the Centre). This wonderful centre in the restored Old Gasworks in Skibbereen tells the story of the Great Hunger (Famine ) in Skibbereen and of the rich natural heritage of Lough Hyne.

There is an excellent audio-visual presentation on Lough Hyne shown in French, German and English with film footage of underwater Lough Hyne and its extraordinary marine life. Learn about the long history of marine research at Lough Hyne since it was ‘discovered’ by scientists in 1886. Explore its rich history and folklore – the O’Driscoll castle, its holy wells and the fable of the king with donkey’s ears! Follow with an informed visit to the lake itself, (5km from Skibbereen Heritage Centre), with information on walks and other activities there.

Lough Hyne itself is overlooked by Lough Hyne House an elegant Regency Hunting Lodge built by Lord Carbery in 1830. At the beginning of the 20th century it was owned by one of Skibbereen's most famous sons, Gerald Joseph Macaura, a friend of Marconi and Henry Ford who made money in the United States from his many inventions and founded Skibbereen's St. Fachtna's Silver Band which still graces events in West Cork today. Working for Edison Laboratories in the States Macaura is remembered for his Pulsocon which he patented. Described as a ‘blood circulator’ the device produced strong vibrations which could be applied to various parts of the body to relieve ‘. . . pain, rheumatism, arthritis and many other ailments. Maybe the good vibrations of Gerald Macaura can still be felt at Lough Hyne?

To experience the uniqueness of this special place go for an evening kayaking trip with Atlantic Sea Kayaking run by Jim and Maria Kennedy. As night falls, the lake takes on a magical air; nocturnal animals make themselves heard and birds call out. On the night we visit, the water is like glass; stop paddling, and you drift along silently. The guides share their knowledge of the lake, its marine life and coloured history. There’s an old Famine village on one shore; in the middle, a castle has a romantic (if not entirely accurate) history involving kings and magic; you learn about the unique tidal nature of the lake: it fills twice a day on an asymmetrical tide, taking four hours to fill, and 8.5 hours to ebb. Lough Hyne, a place apart in the midst of a place apart.

Full Article in the forthcoming edition of "What's on in West Cork" available from the usual outlets and online https://www.whatsoninwestcork.ie/

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