Neagh, Lough

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[Ir. Loch nEchach, nEathach, Eochaid's lake].

Lake of 153 square miles in Northern Ireland, the largest body of fresh water in the British Isles, bordered by counties Antrim, Armagh, Down, and Derry. Surrounded by flat, sandy shores, the Lough has attracted numerous stories, especially flood legends. Place-name stories trace the origin of the Lough to Eochu (or Eochaid) mac Maireda whose otherworldly palace lay beneath the waters; in Christianized versions Eochu was merely an unfortunate mortal who had fallen into the Lough. In a separate story, Eochu (sometimes Ecca in this version) had fallen in love with his stepmother, Ébliu (2), who had been fostered by Angus Óg. Together with Eochu's brother Ríb, the illicit lovers hoped to establish a new kingdom on a northerly plain. After a stranger killed their horses, Angus gave them a marvellous new one, but warned that they should not let it stop to rest and urinate. But once the party reached Ulster, they did allow the horse to urinate, which caused a spring to rise on the spot. Eochu then built a house next to the spring, and one day when a woman did not replace the cover on the spring, it overflowed the area, drowning Eochu and most of his family, forming Lough Neagh. A comparable story is told of Lough Ree. The sanctified mermaid Lí Ban (2), sometimes known as St Muirgen, swims in Lough Neagh. In early Christian times the petty kingdom of Dál nAraide bordered the Lough. A widely known story of more recent, popular origin depicts Fionn mac Cumhaill's creation of the Lough by picking up a clod of earth to throw at a fleeing giant; the clod when thrown becomes the Isle of Man. Known as Lake of the Roes in Macpherson's Ossian (1760). See also SUBMERGED CITIES.

Subjects: Religion.

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