A surprising, stunning and historical drive


IRELAND’S LAKELAND is a veritable series of surprises just waiting to be explored. There is so much to this area that it is hard to know where to begin but Lough Key, close to Boyle, is probably a good place to start.

This is a place not just of beautiful scenery but also of great history, with a lot of it in and around the town of Boyle.

Perhaps most notable are the imposing ruins of a 12th-century Cistercian Abbey on the northern edge of the town, with its contrasting Gothic and Romanesque arches. It’s long history has included periods as a monastery and later as a fort, when it was known as Boyle Castle.

However, interesting as Boyle and its surroundings are, the target of today’s exploration are the roads that ring the 5km Lough Key.

Today the lake is best known for the 800-acre forest park, most of which was the former Rockingham Estate, once owned by Sir John King and sold to the Irish Land Commission in 1957. Rockingham House, once the centrepiece of the estate, was designed by Nash in the early 1800s but was sadly gutted by fire in 1957.

While all trace of the house itself has now disappeared, several of its outbuildings still stand, including the ice house and the temple, from where there are fine views over the lake and its islands. There are also commanding views of the surrounding countryside from a modern structure, the Moylurg Tower.

Before moving on to the roads that surround Lough Key, it’s worth mentioning the Annals of Boyle, a chronicle of medieval Ireland which was compiled on Trinity Island with entries that span the years up to 1253.

Trinity Island is one of no less than 33 islands that dot the lake. Several of these had monasteries established on them, the one on Trinity Island being the only Irish example of a monastery of White Canons, an order that originated in France in the 12th century. The Annals of Boyle now reside in Trinity College together with the Annals of Lough Key, compiled on Castle Island.

We begin our circumnavigation of the lake on the main Sligo road, the N4, heading north and turning off to the right at the first turn after the main entrance to the Forest Park. It’s easy to take the wrong turn but you’ll know you’re on the right road when you almost immediately meet another short road to the right which leads down to the shore of the lake and views of circular Hog’s Island as well as nearby Church Island.

Continuing along the road some of the best views over the lake occur in the next five or six kilometres, looking southeast and east and invariably populated with a number of river cruising boats, for whom the lake is a popular destination reached from Carrick-on-Shannon, through Lough Eidin and the Boyle River at Knockvicar.

All too soon we reach a crossroads that is our cue to turn southeast along the northern shore of the lake.

There are fewer places from which to enjoy the views over the lake on this stretch of the road until we near the pretty village of Knockvicar at the eastern end of the lake. This is a popular mooring place for the many pleasure boats that travel the Shannon and provides an attractive gateway for them to Lough Key.

From Knockvicar, it’s a short drive to rejoin the N4 once more at Glebe and complete our journey. As a taster for the delights of Ireland’s Lakelands, Lough Key has much to recommend it and later in this series we’ll return to this region to explore more of its lakes and their surrounding roads.

In the last great drive (Return to Ballaghbeama, May 2nd) I referred to the Kenmare Peninsula. As several readers pointed out, it’s more correctly called the Iveragh Peninsula. I have always – no doubt incorrectly – called it the Kenmare Peninsula, as indeed do several of my friends, but I stand corrected on this.