Lough Hyne, sometimes also spelled Lough Ine, is a truly unique place. The salt-water lake is connected to the ocean via a narrow tidal channel. Twice a day the tide is flushing fresh ocean water into the lake, thereby creating a unique habitat with a large diversity of marine plants and animals. Driven by this fact, Lough Hyne was declared the first marine nature reserve in Europe in 1981.
Lough Hyne is part of a gorgeous landscape. Ascending hills on three sides are forming a shield against the wind, and it seems that the lake is insulated from the rest of the world. Irish poet Fitz-James O’Brien described the characteristics of this place in an 1852 published poem (see below), which defines how the place can still be experienced to date. A walk up to Knockoumah Hill is highly recommended. The path offers a lot of variety, leading through woodland with some gnarly old trees. Upon reaching the top, not only Lough Hyne can be peered over, but also Baltimore and the Roaringwater Bay can be seen from afar.
The small isle called “Castle Island” is located in the midst of the lake, where the ruins of Cloghan Castle can be seen. The fortress was once built by the O’Driscoll Clan to defend the access to the ocean. Legend has it that the homeland of King Labhra Loingseach was also here, who, so it is being told, had donkey ears. In order to keep this secret, the King had every barber killed, after they had completed their task of doing the royal haircut. However, one barber was able to whisper the King’s secret to a tree at the bank of Lough Hyne, before he had to face his destiny. When the tree had been chopped down many years later, a bard incidentally came by and asked the lumberjack to leave a piece of wood to him for making a harp. The bard arrived at the royal court with his new harp. But when he began to play, the harp intoned its own melody and sang, “King Labhra Loingseach has the ears of a donkey”. When the melody was heard, all the trees in the surrounding woods joined in the song, and the king, deeply ashamed, took flight and was never seen again.
A beautiful salt-water lake in the county of Cork, near Baltimore
I know a lake where the cool waves break,
And softly fall on the silver sand –
And no steps intrude on that solitude,
And no voice, save mine, disturbs the strand.
And a mountain bold, like a giant of old
Turned to stone by some magic spell,
Uprears in might his misty height,
And his craggy sides are wooded well.
In the midst doth smile a little Isle,
And its verdure shames the emerald’s green –
On its grassy side, in ruined pride,
A castle of old is darkling seen.
On its lofty crest the wild crane’s nest,
In its halls the sheep good shelter find;
And the ivy shades where a hundred blades
Were hung, when the owner in sleep reclined.
That chieftain of old could he now behold
His lordly tower a shepherd’s pen,
His corpse, long dead, from its narrow bed
Would rise, with anger and shame again.
‘Tis sweet to gaze when the sun‘s bright rays
Are cooling themselves in the trembling wave –
But ‘tis sweeter far when the evening star
Shines like a tear at Friendships grave.
There the hollow shells through their wreathed cells,
Make music on the lonely shore,
As the summer breeze, through the distant trees,
Murmurs in fragrant breathings o’er.
And the sea weed shines, like the hidden mines,
Or the fairy cities beneath the sea;
And the wave-washed stones are bright as the thrones
Of the ancient Kings of Araby.
If it were my lot in that fairy spot
To live for ever, and dream ’twere mine,
Courts might woo, and kings pursue,
Ere I would leave thee – loved Lough-Ine.
Fitz-James O’Brien 1828 – 1862.