Fermanagh: Northern Ireland’s little-known county is full of things to do | To travel

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TIt’s a moment in Ozark, Netflix’s brilliant drama series about a dubious accountant forced to launder money for a drug cartel, when the main character reveals a plan to relocate to the Missouri Lakes and invest in an area that has, as he puts it, “more shore than the whole coast of California”.

The idea is that the broad shore is a neglected and underdeveloped resource in which the primordial human joy to be found near bodies of water could be better exploited. It echoes my own thoughts on Fermanagh, the most westerly county in Northern Ireland, where I was born and raised.

Unfortunately, I have no illicit profit to hide in questionable tourism programs, and I am very aware that the number of my compatriots like their country is exactly neglected and underdeveloped. change the landscape of our children. And what a landscape.

Lower Lough Erne from the top of the Cliffs of Magho. Photograph: Alamy

Fermanagh is dominated by water – that which falls too regularly from the sky, as well as that which has settled for millennia in the lakes and rivers that cover a significant part of the county. An old saying goes that for six months of the year Lough Erne is in Fermanagh, but for the other six months Fermanagh is in Lough Erne.

Most of the shoreline outside the main town of Enniskillen remains as natural as it was when it was created during the last Ice Age. The exception is probably Killadeas, a small town 10 km north of Enniskillen, where sheltered bays and rich farmland are home to some of the county’s most exclusive properties, and which is an ideal central base for exploring. The beautiful Country Hotel Manor sits on a hill above the lake, and a nine-hole golf course divides the deciduous forest that descends to Manor Marine harbor, trailer park, and lakeside trails.

The hotel and marina are owned separately, but there is a symbiotic relationship that works, each drawing custom for the other. We were in one of the Manoir Marin‘s 12 holiday cottages, on a complex overlooking the water, with a tennis court, pitch and putt, children’s playground, game room and shop – and the comforts of having a four-star hotel. stars with nice bars a three minute walk up the hill when self catering became too much of an effort.

In summer, the small bay in front of the chalets is teeming with activity. Cruisers hum, jet skis rumble, paddleboards and kayaks whisper. But of all the swallows and Amazons attractions in the area – boats, fishing, uninhabited islands, ancient ruins – it was giving cups of Cheerios to a family of ducks on our patio each morning that captivated the most. our five year old, Isla.

Figures carved on White Island in Lower Lough Erne.
Figures carved on White Island in Lower Lough Erne. Photograph: Alamy

The next four days were a whirlwind, which is one of the many paradoxical things about Fermanagh – time seems to fly by even though many locals see only fleeting interest in the whole concept of l ‘clock. The area is famous (or infamous until you get used to it) for observing “Fermanagh Time”, which is basically GMT + “Sure, what’s the rush?” When crossing the county border, visitors should be advised not to back up or forward their watch, but to remove it completely. Ironically, it takes a bit of time to adjust to this laid back approach to life.

The list of attractions and diverse places in such a sparsely populated and relatively remote area is staggering. Having only a long weekend, we decided to focus on Lower Lough and Enniskillen, and hired a dayboat from Manor Marine, perfect for a family adventure, with little people able to take turns. to steer and play captain.

History and myth coexist and overlap on Erne and its islands as much as anywhere in Ireland. There are stone statues, multi-faced gods, forgotten cemeteries, siege sites, aquatic war graves, and a general air of mystery and mystique. The islands and much of the foreshore are densely forested, with spaces in between filled with fields where cattle grind the lush grass and make their way to the water to watch the boats go by. It is a pastoral idyll, the thick air, the gentle breeze and the song of the birds and the gentle lapping of the waters capable of lowering even the most strained shoulders. The rolling clouds change the sky, the light, the colors, the lake itself. I saw it silver, gold, brown, black and blue.

Upper Lough Erne near Crom Castle.
Upper Lough Erne near Crom Castle. Photograph: Alamy

We moved slowly, the boat slicing through the peaty water and churning the dirty cream in a wavy wake on either side, passing the well-kept fairways of the five-star. Lough Erne Golf Resort, which hosted the world’s most powerful people at the G8 summit in 2013. We were heading to Devenish Island, which, whether in the Lake District or Loch Lomond, would not need to be presented. It’s a remarkable site, and what could be more appealing to a child than a boat trip to an island with ruins, spooky tombstones, a huge round tower, and bloody stories of Viking monks and raids? Only a dragon and a treehouse could improve it.

Enniskillen is about half an hour from Devenish by slow cruiser, and the refreshments are well worth the trip. Hollow Blakes is a popular traditional bar right in the middle of the island town. Don’t miss the excellent local gin, Shipyard – and the county now has its own craft beer, Inishmacsaint. For alimentation, Franco’s Restaurant has for decades served this magical, slippery elixir called “Atmosphere” alongside its excellent fare.

On our way up the lake, we passed in the shadow of the imposing school on the hill, formerly known as Portora Royal, alma mater of luminaries such as Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett and Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy, and returned to the Manor. facing a sunset over the water that would defy the very description of these famous creators of words.

Bass Lough Erne.
Lower Lough Erne: The scenery is timeless, but Fermanagh has evolved over time. Photograph: Alamy

The next morning was a swim in the lake and paddleboarding. The water is silky and earthy, not spiky and prickly like salt water from the sea or a chlorinated swimming pool. Below the surface, there is little visibility beyond your arm’s length, but what was clear was that the depth of these experiences will remain with children into adulthood, just as they. did it with me.

I reminded them of this when we changed at the chalet, but they called back me that I had promised them a visit to Tickety-Moo Ice Cream, a thriving family business just five minutes down the road. There we watched the cows being milked and pampered from the observation deck in their shed, then ate the thick and delicious ice cream which, in a wonderful alchemy, had been made from lapping products. in the udders a few hours earlier.

And I was struck by the fact that, while I lived far away, the timeless Fermanagh evolved with the times. When I left the county in the late 1990s, the idea that this rural backwater would, in a few decades, host the G8 summit in a five-star golf resort and boast its own brands of ice cream, gin. and beer was fancy. . Maybe the money launderers and exploitative developers will arrive after all. Go ahead before them.


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