Lough Erne has a profoundly important place in the history of Fermanagh. The earliest people to settle in the region lived on and around the two lakes; many of the islands here are in fact crannógs. The lough’s myriad connecting waterways were impenetrable to outsiders, protecting the settlers from invaders and creating an enduring cultural isolation. Evidence from stone carvings suggests that Christianity was accepted far more slowly here than elsewhere: several pagan idols have been found on Christian sites, and the early Christian remains to be found on the islands show the strong influence of pagan culture. Here, Christian carving has something of the stark symmetry, as well as a certain vacancy of facial expression, found in pagan statues. Particularly suggestive of earlier cults is the persistence of the human-head motif in stone carving – in pagan times a symbol of divinity and the most important of religious symbols.
Devenish Island and White Island, the most popular of the Erne’s ancient sites, are on the Lower Lough, as is Boa Island in its far north, which is linked to the mainland by a bridge at each end. The Upper Lough is less rewarding, but has interesting spots that repay a leisurely dawdle. Aside from cruising the waterways and visiting the islands, there are a number of minor attractions around the loughs that are worth dropping into during your stay. Perhaps the most impressive are the early seventeenth-century planters’ castles scattered around the shoreline.