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Lough Swilly
Loch Súilí
Lough SwillyLoch Súilí -
Location County Donegal, Ireland
Primary sources River Swilly
Settlements Inishowen

Lough Swilly (Irish: Loch Súilí, meaning ""Lake of Shadows" or the "Lake of Eyes"") in Ireland is a fjord-like body of water lying between the western side of the Inishowen Peninsula and the Fanad Peninsula, in County Donegal.

At the northern extremities of the lough are Fanad Head with its famous lighthouse and Dunaff Head. Towns situated on the lough include Buncrana on Inishowen and Rathmullan on the western side. At the southern end of the Lough lies Letterkenny.

The lough is also famous for its wildlife-watching (dolpins, porpoise, sea birds, migratory geese and swans) and diving on the numerous ship wrecks, including the SS Laurentic sunk by a German mine (possible torpedo), which went down with 3211 ingots of gold of which 3191 were recovered.

In the south of the lough a number of islands (Burt, Inch, Coney, Big Isle) were poldered and the land reclaimed during the 1800s for agriculture and the Lough Swilly to Derry City Railway embankments. These reclaimed lands are now regarded as one of Ireland's premier wetlands for wildlife conservation and birdwatching, supporting over 4000 Whooper Swans and thousands of Greenland white front, Barnacle, Greylagg and Brent geese.

History

Steeped in history the Lough and An Greinán Fort (early fortification and palace dating from 2000- 5000 BC) at its southeastern bend was recorded on Ptolemy's map of the world. It has numerous early stone age monuments and Iron Age fortifications along its shores as well as a number of shell midden finds dated to approximately 7000 BC. It is most famous for its part in hosting what is known as Flight of the Earls. After a failed general uprising, in September 1607, Hugh O'Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone and Rory O'Donnell, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell the last Gaelic chieftains and upholders of Brehon law in Ireland at that time, set sail from Rathmullan with ninety of their followers.

During the late 1700s a French fleet carrying Wolfe Tone of The United Irishmen fame and troops to assist in 1798 rebellion was intercepted and defeated in a naval battle at the entrance to Lough Swilly in October 1798. Subsequently Tone was captured and taken ashore at Buncrana on the east side of the Swilly.

Portsalon pier and Lough Swilly.

In 1804 or so the British built Martello towers to defend the approaches to Londonderry, including six at Lough Swilly. They were built in six months, cost €1,800 each, and were armed with smooth bore cannon, firing round shot.

On 4 December 1811, during a gale the Royal Navy 36-gun Apollo class frigate HMS Saldanha was shipwrecked in Lough Swilly. There were no survivors out of the estimated 253 aboard, and some 200 bodies washed up on shore.

Due to its natural shelter and impressive depth the Lough was always an important naval port from earliest times. Following the capture of Tone and the real threat of a French invasion under Napoleon, a series of fortifications were built from 1800-1820 guarding the different approaches and landing points within the Lough. During World War I, the lough was used by the Royal Navy as an anchorage for the North Atlantic Fleet under Admiral Jellicoe and a gathering/staging point for North Atlantic convoys. During this period a boom was placed across the Lough supported by a number of trawlers to prevent U-Boat attacks. Immediately prior to World War I the British also improved the Napoleonic forts and their armaments as well as adding an additional fort at the entrance to the lough at Lenan Head with 9 inch guns (12 mile range) - the largest in Ireland at the time. The remains of these fortifications can still be inspected at Lenan Head, Dunree (now a military and wildlife museum), neds point- Buncrana, Inch Island and on the west coast at Rathmullan, Knockalla and Macamish point. After the Black and Tan war the Lough was also one of the Treaty Ports specified in the Anglo-Irish Treaty until its final handing over at Fort Dunree in 1938.

Coordinates: 55°09′14″N 7°32′12″W / 55.15377°N 7.53662°W / 55.15377; -7.53662

See also

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