Lough Gur is a mystical lake in County Limerick, reported by locals to hide a magical realm beneath its glistening surface. Lough Gur may not feature on most tourist’s lists of places to see when visiting the Emerald Isle, but believe it or not, it is one of Ireland’s most important historical sites.
Lough Gur boasts rich evidence of ancient Irish life, Neolithic dwellings, man made islands (crannógs), pillar stones, ruined castles, a large Bronze Age stone circle, and a wedge tomb.
Visiting Lough Gur is always on my “to do” list when I spend time in Ireland. One of my favorite childhood haunts, it lies less than twenty miles from our family farm. Here my imagination runs wild. I love to recount old legends to my children. Faeries, enchantresses and wild knights inhabit these shores and waters.
Today I thought I would finally share some of last summer’s photos of this glorious spot.
Lough Gur’s current shape is very different to its circular outline of ancient times. Today, meandering shores kiss the feet of surrounding hills. Before the 1840’s the lake’s water levels rose much higher.
The Hill of Knockadoon lies on its eastern side, but once formed a large island in the middle of the lough. Drainage schemes in the 1840’s lowered lake waters, revealing many of its archaeological treasures.
The Interpretative Center, built in a thatched replica of a Neolithic hut, offers audiovisual overviews of the area, bringing to life over 6,000 years of archaeology and history.
“The Giants Grave” is a wedge shaped tomb dating back to around 2,500 B.C..
Grange Stone Circle is composed of 113 standing stones. Dating back to 2,200 B.C., it is the largest stone circle in Ireland.
On the summit of the surrounding hill, Knockfennel, there is a ring-cairn of stones. Upon archaeological excavation pockets of burnt human bones were found. Yikes!!!! Our ancient ancestors were a crazy bunch.
Over one thousand years ago the local inhabitants built Bolin island as a defense against their enemies. This artificial island is called a ‘crannóg’, from “crann” the Irish word for tree. When under attack the farmers of Lough Gur retreated to their island by an underwater causeway, lifting the bridge to deny admission to their attackers.
During excavation of one of Lough Gur’s ring forts a hoard of Danish silver was discovered suggesting the presence of Vikings.
Bouchier’s Castle is a typical tower house with defensive balconies and a causeway guarding its approach. It is currently listed for restoration, so hopefully government budgets will soon allow work to begin.
Stories of a mystical past abound. One folk tale of the lake recounts the enchanted fate of Gerald Fitzgerald, 3rd Earl of Desmond (1338 to 1398), a Chief Justice of Ireland and a poet in both Irish and French. Supposedly he never died, but now lives beneath the waters.
Every seven years this lost Fitzgerald emerges from the lake, riding his white steed, shod with glistening silver shoes. He gallops around the shore and across the lake before returning to his watery home. The legend foretells he will regain his mortal form when he finally wears away his horse’s silver shoes. If I ever bump into him, I must remind him to stick to the hard shores for his midnight rides. He’ll never wear out those shoes riding across the water. When he returns for good he will restore the glory of the Desmonds.
Another famous Fitzgerald with connections to this area is Honey Fitz, Mayor of Boston and grandfather of the 35th President of the United States. The family of John Francis Fitzgerald (1863 – 1950) emigrated to Boston from this area. He was known as “Honey Fitz” because of his beautiful singing voice.
Many other folk tales exist recounting tales of the goddess Áine known to sit by the lake combing her golden tresses.
I found a wonderful website, Voices From The Dawn, which dedicates a full post to the history and folklore of Lough Gur. Here you will find short videos of the late Tom McNamera, the storyteller of Lough Gur, recounting the mythical tales of these waters.
For anyone interested in visiting this beautiful lake, the Lough Gur website includes plenty of helpful and informative information.
If you’re the type of tourist who enjoys getting off the beaten path and visiting the treasures of hidden Ireland, then a trip to Lough Gur should feature on your list of places to see.
Wishing visitors to Ireland, this summer and always, happy, educational and exciting adventures.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom