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The Lower Bann: A Great Water Highway Victor Hamill, Chairman RBLNA -with acknowledgements to Wallace Clarke

Halfway along the north coast of Ireland lie the seaside resorts of Castlerock and Portstewart. Between them lies the tidal estuary of the River Bann, which enters the sea at the Barmouth. The river entrance is relatively safe for small boats but is not for the faint-hearted in strong northerly or north-westerly winds.

The river is famous for its salmon and the estuary is pretty, with sand hills on each side, containing fine golf courses and rich agricultural land. Seaton's Marina lies approximately three miles upstream on the east bank. Diesel and water are available, together with berthing and lift-out facilities and advice about the river. The public marina lies further upstream, also on the east bank, and has good basic facilities for visitors.

Five miles up lies the university town of Coleraine. St Patrick built a church here in the fifth century and the town is one of the leading plantation towns, and well worth a visit. Coleraine has a harbour with a 30-tonne crane, good quays and boat-storage facilities. Just above the harbour, headroom at the town's stone bridge is restricted to 13' at low water.

The river is tidal for two miles above Coleraine to the sea-lock at the Cutts, just upstream of the great earth fort at Mountsandel on the east bank, a site of archaeological importance that rises majestically out of its pine trees. There is a small jetty to enable visitors to tie alongside for short stays.

The lock will take boats up to 100' X 18'; the river will take boats drawing up to 4'. In the 32 miles up to Lough Neagh, the river rises 50' but if the massive floodgates are open more than 18" at the Cutts there is a 4' fall in the stretch of a mile above them. Great care is needed at this point in flood conditions.

Just above Loughan Island, on the east bank, lies the relatively new Drumaheglis Marina, run by Ballymoney Borough Council, which has camping and caravanning facilities. At Portna, near the town of Kilrea, 16 miles from Coleraine, there is a dry dock above the upper lock, which blocks the channel when in use. Fortunately this does not happen very often and is advertised in the press in advance. The locks at Portna lie on a short canal west of the river.

Portglenone is a further 7 miles upstream and boasts a new marina with a pub and shops within easy reach. The forest here has many riverside walks and the scenery is serene. The fishing here is arguably the finest in the whole length of the river.

Four miles upstream the voyager comes to Newferry, where there are facilities for tying up on both sides of the river before entry to Lough Beg (3 miles long by 1 across). Navigation is marked by perches and leads to Toome, at the entrance to Lough Neagh, which has a jetty where it is possible to tie up and buy provisions.

Through the lock at Toome lies Lough Neagh, an inland sea 17 miles X 11 miles: the largest inland lough in the British Isles. Lough Neagh and its hinterland are strong in character and traditions. In fine weather the water becomes a blue mirror and at sunset the whole lough often resembles a sea of molten gold.

There is a newly furbished marina at Ballyronan on the west bank. Other places of interest are Coney Island, Ardboe Battery, Kinnegoe Marina, Castle Bay (with its new community centre and restaurant) and Rams Island. It is possible to visit Antrim and to navigate the River Blackwater from Maghery.

Lough Neagh requires care in strong winds because the waves are short and steep. Sand dredging is an important commercial activity and there are many fishermen who earn a living catching pollan, a freshwater herring peculiar to Lough Neagh.

The prospect of reopening the Ulster Canal between Lough Neagh and Lough Erne, and on to the Shannon, is eagerly awaited. It will provide the missing link between these important waterways with all their tourist potential, which will in turn provide opportunities for further
economic development.

      Maid of Antrim by Jim McGarry

Looking out across Lough Neagh on any day between Easter and 31 October, any year from 1967 until 1998, you would probably have seen the passenger vessel Maid of Antrim sailing on one of her thousands of one-hour cruises or on a chartered booked cruise of anything from two hours up to an all-day special. Her classic lines and easy gait distinguished her from any previous passenger vessel that plied on Lough Neagh. During her 32 consecutive years cruising she became part of the Lough's history and outstripped previous attempts to run a similar operation by 28 years.

The Maid of Antrim was built on the Clyde in 1963 and ran for two years out of Queensborough up the Gareloch and Holy Loch; she was then called the Scots Guard. She was bought in 1965 by John Rainey of Larne and operated at Antrim in 1965 and Carrickfergus in 1966. She returned to the Clyde in the winter of 1966 and was hauled ashore in McAllister's Yard at Dumbarton.

George and James McGarry of the long-established boatbuilding and marine contracts family firm of H McGarry & Sons, Ardmore Boatyard, flew immediately to the Clyde to secure the vessel when she was put up for sale in May 1967. The annual overhaul and certification of the hull took place in Scotland. After launching, the vessel - with an Ardmore Boatyard crew - was forced to lie in Gourock Harbour during two days of a westerly gale and heavy rain. A few days later, after a successful crossing of the Irish Sea, the Board of Trade engine and buoyancy certification took place at Toomebridge.

Her first cruise was from Toome to Coney Island on Saturday morning 16 June 1967; she spent the remainder of that day running one-hour cruises from Coney Island Festival through a Lough surface thick with green algae: that was the infamous summer of algal blooms that started the chain of research and remedial works still being carried out today by the Dept of Agriculture. The family crew slept aboard (the first of many such overnight operations) at Coney Island and made passage to the Sixmilewater on Sunday in time to operate one-hour cruises starting at 2.00pm.

For the next 32 years the Maid was full-time during the summer months, operating all cruise permutations imaginable to make the best use of the existing harbours and islands. The highlights of each season were the weekends, usually four off, when she took passengers down the Lower Bann to the Cutts on the Saturday, and returned with a fresh party on the Sunday to the Sixmilewater. Late-night party bookings - which included barbecues on Rams Island or Coney Island, Ballyronan, Cranfield, The Gaugers, The Battery, Maghery, Toomebridge and Portglenone - were quite successful given reasonable weather. High winds and river floods were, of course, the cause of many party cancellations.

Disaster overtook the Maid and her family crew on 6 September 1974 when James Jnr (aged 17) was lost overboard during a night cruise. His body was not recovered until ten days later near Hutton's Point. This family tragedy almost spelt the demise of the Maid of Antrim's operation at that time - but for the tenacity and foresight of the remaining young family, who voted to carry on in recognition of the work and interest that James had put into the operation.

And so it was that during 1975 and 1976 the Maid was taken out of the Lough for cruises on Lough Foyle for two weeks in May and two in September, giving the crew a welcome and interesting change of venue - and the local residents a chance to view the city and surroundings from their own beautiful Foyle river, which had been without a permanent passenger cruise vessel for many years. The remainder of those years were spent as usual on Lough Neagh.

At the end of 1977, the McGarry family crew members were finishing their education and ready to move into their respective career fields, so they would not be available as crew members. It was time to sell the Maid. She was bought by Antrim Borough Council and continued plying cruises until the end of 1998, exclusively on Lough Neagh except for a two week visit to Belfast Lough in July 1991 to coincide with the Tall Ships visit. In all, she gave a total of 32 consecutive years of sterling service, providing locals and visitors with the opportunity to see our largest Lough and unique Lower Bann river at close quarters and in relative comfort. She had, in those years, become part of Lough Neagh's attraction and history - and something of a pet to those who crewed and skippered her!

note: At present the Maid is standing on shore being refurbished. It is  hoped that  that this beautiful little ship will sail again soon.

The Upper Bann by Michael Savage

The Upper Bann enters L Neagh about 1.25 miles south-east of Coney Island flat. The entrance is shallow and not properly marked or maintained. Entry should not be attempted without local knowledge. A quarter mile upstream is the site of the old Bann Ferry, which no longer operates. The jetties can be used for a short stop. The villages of Charlestown (Bannfoot, east bank) and Columbkille (west bank) can be visited by a 10-minute walk.

From the Bann Ferry the river meanders deep and wide through the open meadows of its flood plain, for 6 miles to the M1 motorway bridge. The air draft at this bridge is 3.050m on the north soffet and 3.075 on the south, assuming a Lough Neagh level of 12.5m OD. A change of wind direction on L Neagh can cause the river to back up and reduce the air draft.

Once through the bridge the river becomes more enclosed. Three miles south is Shillington Quay in the heart of Portadown, with jetty (only 0.6m depth) and slipway; there is another jetty, with the same depth, about half a mile upstream, behind a supermarket. The town, about 5 minutes walk, has all the usual facilities: refreshments, takeaways, garages etc. There are three bridges in Portadown centre but all are higher than the M1 bridge.

One mile upstream from Shillington is the Point of Whitecoat, where the Newry Canal and the river Cusher join the Upper Bann. The Bann is navigable for another half-mile beyond this point. The Newry Canal is navigable by dinghy from the Point to Moneypenny Lock, about 1 mile. The canal is very weedy in summer but has ample water until about 100m from the lock. It is well worth the effort to bank moor, and either walk the towpath or travel by dinghy to Moneypenny. The lock is in remarkable condition for its age.

The Blackwater River by Michael Savage

The river Blackwater enters Lough Neagh in the SW corner, west of Derrywarragh Island, and is navigable from Maghery to Blackwatertown. However, that channel is not properly marked and the depth is not maintained: it is subject to silting and to blocking by trees and other flotsam. Access should not be attempted via this route without local knowledge.

The small Maghery Canal - accommodating craft of 1.2m draft, 1.9m air draft and 3.8m beam, assuming a Lough Neagh level of 12.5m OD - enters the Blackwater south of Derrywarragh Island. At the east end is a small jetty area with a good slipway. There is a freshwater tap at the north end of the warden's office and a caravan park, run by Craigavon Borough Council (tel 028 3834 1199), beside the jetty area. The warden can be contacted on 028 3885 2053. There is a hotel at Maghery called the Lough Neagh Lodge, 028 3885 1901.

The Maghery Canal enters the Blackwater at the site of the former Maghery ferry and the ferry landing can be used to moor a boat for a short stop. Heading south from Maghery, long panoramic views are enjoyed towards Dungannon. About 2.5 miles from Maghery ferry is the entrance to the River Torrent and the Coalisland Canal .It is reedy and shallow but can be entered with care to bank moor. The remains of the first lock (along the north bank, about 15 minutes) are worth visiting. There is an accommodation footbridge to the south bank.

About 1 mile south of the Coalisland Canal entrance is the M1 bridge close to the Tamnamore at Junction 14. There are no jetties north of this bridge and any preparations should be done downstream. The air draft is 2.55m at 12.5m OD but the south side is about 50cm lower than the north side so care is required. At the highest point on the soffet is a sign saying HEADROOM.

A change of wind direction on Lough Neagh can cause the river level to rise and a boat could get stuck on the wrong side of the bridge: a change from SW to NE, Force 3-4, can raise the river 100-200cm. There is also the more obvious problem of rises due to heavy rain.

Past the bridge are a jetty and slipway, with toilet block and picnic area, before Verner's Bridge. There is a filling station and shop about a quarter of a mile SE of the picnic area, which is run by Armagh Council. Just south of Verner's Bridge a small river called the Tall joins the Blackwater. It is known locally as "the canal". It is navigable for 2.5 miles by dinghy or canoe.

One mile south of Verner's Bridge are the remains of the original piers of the Great Northern Railway bridge, on the line from Dungannon to Portadown. The navigation channel is marked by heavy iron fendering. The river now becomes more enclosed with fairly steep banks to the east with more farms and houses.

Another quarter mile upstream is Bond's Bridge, built in the 1890s: a fine example of a bowstring bridge. There is a slipway and jetty, with car park and picnic area. The River Rhone (not navigable) joins 200m beyond Bond's Bridge. Just past it, on the east bank, is a large country house estate called the Argory, donated by the McKeogh Bond family to the National Trust (028 8778 4753). It is served by a small jetty and is a good quiet berth for a night's stay.

One mile upstream the Callan River joins the Blackwater: it is navigable by dinghy or canoe for 1.25 miles to Fairlawn Bridge. Half a mile further on, at a bend on the east bank, is the entrance to the first lock of the Ulster Canal, obscured by trees and bushes, and thus easily missed, in midsummer. It is difficult to bank moor here but the effort is worth it. There is an inhabited lock keeper's cottage, larger than most others on the Ulster Canal. Adjoining the upstream entrance are the remains of the substantial dry dock; the grooves for the stop logs can be seen in the masonry. A sluice at the back drained the dock into the Blackwater.

A quarter mile further on is Charlemont Bridge, with the town of Charlemont on the east bank and Moy on the other. There is a jetty and slipway with a car park on the west bank downstream from the bridge. The slipway end of the jetty is prone to silting and the jetty is usually covered in mud or sand from winter floods.

Moy is the larger of the settlements, with listed buildings in the centre around the tree-lined square - and several takeaways, restaurants and supermarkets. Charlemont has a fuel station and shop. The remains of Charlemont fort can be glimpsed through the trees from the river.The centre arch of Charlemont Bridge is the navigation arch with 4m air draft and 2.2m of water at normal levels. The river is noticeably narrower, narrowed further in places by fallen trees, but there is usually plenty of room for a boat to get through.

Blackwatertown is 2.5 miles further on the east bank, with a slipway and jetty, usually covered in sand and mud; a quarter mile before it is a shrine on the west bank. There are two grocery shops (one with fuel) and a pub that serves meals.

The Ulster's second lock, and lock keeper's house, are worth a visit, along the road to Charlemont on the NE side of the town. There is also a canal bridge called Mullylagan Bridge, a short walk along the B128, offering views of the bed of the canal and accommodation bridge.

Option 3 in the Ulster Canal Feasibility Study calls for the canal to join the Blackwater close to Mullylagan Bridge. At present Blackwatertown is the limit of navigation - but hopefully not for long.

Coney Island by Peter McClelland, Warden

Coney Island is located 1km offshore of Maghery Country and Caravan Park in the SW corner of Lough Neagh. The island is rich in mature woodland, providing a good habitat for many species of woodland birds.

The island is also steeped in history. Evidence of human habitation dates back to Mesolithic times. An Anglo-Norman motte nearby is though to be the most westerly Norman stronghold in Ulster. The tower on the island was used by clan leader Shane O'Neill as a lookout post and stronghold for his riches. After his death in 1567 the English deputy Lord Sidney took the O'Neill treasures back home and reputedly became the richest man in England.

In 1895 James Alfred Caulfield, VII Viscount and XI Baron of Charlemont, spent his summers in the Victorian cottage which he built on the island. His remains lie in the tower on the island.

The island is now owned by the National Trust and managed by Craigavon Borough Council. I live in the Victorian cottage: I am always happy to see new faces and all visitors are welcome to this lakeland paradise. Access is usually from the slipway at Maghery. Tel 028 3832 2205, fax 028 3834 7438, e-mail

Lough Neagh Rescue
Eric McKinley, Patron, LNR
Paddy Prunty, Training Officer, LNR

Lough Neagh Rescue (LNR) was formed after the tragic loss of Mr David Gray jnr when his vessel sank on 3 July 1989 while on passage back to Kinnego Marina from Ballyronan. His three companions were rescued after spending 3.5 hours in the water.

Following his death, Mr. David Gray senior and the family donated a 1 6-6 Series Delta Lifeboat with the latest high-tech log compass and two 75hp Mariner outboard engines, in memory of David and to assist other users of the lough. This boat was named Bungy, the family name for David, and became the Kinnego Lifeboat.

The boat was handed over to Craigavon Borough Council in October 1989 and is crewed by 22 volunteers from the Craigavon area. They trained over the winter of 1989/90 in all aspects of search and rescue cover.

It was considered that one Rescue Boat could not provide proper cover for Lough Neagh and Mr Gray approached the Northern Ireland Office for funding for a second boat. With help from Mr Eric McKinley, Clerk and Chief Executive of Craigavon Borough Council, and members of the crew, Mr Gray managed to obtain funding of £60,000 towards the purchase of a second boat, to be based in the Battery Harbour, Ardboe. A crew of 30 volunteers from the Ardboe area had already commenced training to man this Ardboe Lifeboat.

The Committee of LNR decided to name the second boat The David Gray after Mr Gray snr, who had worked so tirelessly to fulfil his dream. The Committee was formed in January 1991 at the first AGM of the crews; the constitution was drawn up at this meeting and three of the Ardboe crew joined the Committee a few months later.

During May 1990 HM Coastguard Belfast erected a new aerial on Black Mountain to give VHF cover to Lough Neagh. This historic development meant that all users of the lough would have the same protection as people on the Irish Sea. LNR and HM Coastguard have worked closely over the past eleven years and the thanks of LNR and all users of Lough Neagh are due to Mr. Brett Cunningham and his colleagues at Bregenze House for their ready assistance.
LNR is the first response service to work alongside all services within Northern Ireland to protect and preserve life on Lough Neagh. The co-operation of the fishing community and all other bodies having an interest in Lough Neagh has been vital in the establishment of LNR and we know that co-operation will continue.

We must never forget how LNR came into being through the tragic death of David Gray jnr. Many lives have been lost in the past on Lough Neagh but if we can save one life, all of our efforts will have been worthwhile.

LNR is now equipped with two up-to-date Delta 7.7m RIBs: the Kinnego boat with twin 90hp engines and the Ardboe boat with twin 115hp engines. The top speed of these vessels is in the region of 50mph.

Waterways Ireland  by Martin Denany

Waterways Ireland is a North South implementation Body for inland navigations, established under the British Irish Agreement Act 1999. It's remit is the management, maintenance, development and restoration of the inland navigable waterway system principally for recreational purposes. The Body has responsibility for the Shannon-Erne Waterway, the Erne System, the Grand Canal, the Barrow Navigation, the Lower Bann Navigation, the Royal Canal and the Shannon Navigation, together
amounting to around 1000km of navigable waterways.
The Body was also tasked with taking forward studies looking at the possible reopening of the Ulster Canal. Consultants were commissioned to update an earlier feasibility study on the Ulster Canal. Waterways Ireland have forwarded its recommendations to the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in the North (DCAL) and to the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaelteacht & the Islands (DAHGI) in the South.
Waterways Ireland has it's Head Office in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh. The Northern Region, based in Carrick-on Shannon, Co Leitrim, is responsible for the Shannon-Erne Waterway, the Erne System and the Lower Bann. The Western Region, based in Scarriff, Co Clare, is responsible for the Shannon Navigation, including the Suck.
The Eastern Region based in Dublin is responsible/or the Grand and Royal Canals and the Barrow Navigation.
Plans are in progress to provide permanent accommodation in each region, but until this is available the interim addresses and telephone numbers for Waterways Ireland are:
20 Darling Street, Enniskillen,
Co. Fermanagh BT74 7EW
Phone 028 6632 3004
Main Street, Carrick-on Shannon
Co. Leitrim
Phone 00353 78 50898
Market Square, Scarriff,
Co. Clare
Phone 00353 61 922034

Lough Neagh & Lower Bann Advisory Committees by Caroline Marshall

Lough Neagh and its associated rivers are important in terms of commercial fishing, water and land recreation, sand dredging, environmental designations and water supply. Usually there is no conflict between users of the lough, but occasionally problems can arise. The need to integrate these diverse activities prompted the creation of a non-statutory, two-tier management structure.

The Lough Neagh Advisory Committee, with 30 members from the local community, special interest groups and user groups, was established in 1994 to advise on the protection of the natural and manmade heritage, drainage and navigation and the management and development of countryside and open-air recreation. It meets quarterly to consider these issues, reach a consensus view and make recommendations to the executive bodies in central and local government through a Lough Neagh Coordinating Committee. A similar two-tier structure exists for the Lower Bann. Separate working groups have been established to provide specialised advice on topics such as navigation, environmental management and water quality.

Over the next two years, an integrated plan will be prepared which will set out recommendations for the long-term management of all aspects of the Lough. One of the main factors affecting the Lough in terms of navigation will be the proposal to re-water the Ulster Canal, thus linking the Neagh and Bann waters to the Shannon-Erne system.

The work of the Advisory Committee is serviced by a Liaison Officer with secretarial support staff, and is resourced by the Department of the Environment Northern Ireland and the seven riparian local authorities. Contact the Liaison Officer if you have any queries about the management of Lough Neagh. You are welcome to call at the office in Magherafelt, where there is a library of information, or visit our soon-to-be-constructed website. The office also produces a newsletter called Eel Express.

Lough Neagh & Lower Bann Advisory Committees
Sperrin House, 43 Queen's Street
Northern Ireland BT45 6BX

Tel 028 7930 1289
Fax 028 7930 1287

Dark Clouds Gather over Lough Neagh

On Easter Tuesday, I was sitting in the café at the Discovery Centre on Oxford Island. My friend Peter McClelland the warden from Coney Island was with me. We were looking across Lough Neagh at the smoke from the pyres at Ardboe on the western shore. Peter commented that this was a sobering sight for us all in the café. The usual jovial atmosphere was absent as the smoke had killed off conversation in the café. We had realised what the smoke signals from Ardboe eight miles to the northwest meant to Lough Neagh. The ironic part of the situation is that the name Ardboe comes from the Irish language meaning `hill of the cow'
What a difference confirmation of the Foot and Mouth outbreak at Ardboe had made. Peter and I had been looking forward to a full season of interesting and varied events on the lough and associated rivers. Now the calendar was starting to crumble. Our usual Easter get together at Toome Canal for the Toome fair was a non-event, the visit of the Lough Derg Branch of the IWAI postponed and the Viking Ships visit to Brocagh was also postponed.
Peter had just reopened Coney after the relaxation of restrictions after the first outbreak in South Armagh and had worked hard to get the island looking it's best for the coming season. I hope that Coney will be able to remain open as it does not have any contact with agricultural land and visitors abide by the guidelines.
After the initial shock that the Ardboe outbreak caused I have sensed a determined spirit in all those involved in the organisation of events around the Lough. A lot has been happening on the Lough Neagh system in the last few years. Three new marinas built and two of the old ones refurbished with the addition of all the latest services. Only five years ago shore power on jetties was unheard of and water taps something of a luxury. The latest place updated is the Battery Harbour at Ardboe with new jetties and a new Lifeboat station. I have spoken to the local committee at the Battery and they are determined that once this terrible scourge is past they will make sure that their harbour is once again a great place for visiting boats. Our own annual Boat Rally to be held early in June has been postponed to August with the date to be confirmed. The chairman of our Rally Committee John Freeburn has assured me that the Boat Rally will be bigger and better than ever to compensate for the postponement.
In the meantime, until we have at least thirty clear days, boating activity on the Lough Neagh system is at a minimum. All of the Council Facilities bordering on agricultural land are closed. The Ulster Farmers Union have asked that all boaters abide by the guidelines and the Rivers Agency wearing their Waterways Ireland Hat have asked that, although the Navigation on the Lower Bann is open, that boaters do not use the river unless absolutely necessary and if using the river not to land anywhere there is contact with agricultural land.
All members of the River Bann and Lough Neagh Association have been issued a copy of the IWAI guidelines and I would urge all members to abide by these guidelines.

Michael Savage

On Lough Neagh's banks where the fisherman strays,
When the clear, cold eve's declining,
He sees the round towers of other days
In the waves beneath him shining.

`Let Erin Remember'. Thomas Moore

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