Carlingford Lough is a portrait of every age and period of the island of Ireland’s history and remains as beautiful and mysterious as it was when it first appeared during the Ice Age. Few areas can boast the magnificent and dramatic view of the Cooley and Mourne Mountains rising from the shores of the Lough.
Cutting deep between the Mournes and the Cooley Mountains, Carlingford Lough is a flooded U shaped valley carved by an Ice Age glacier. As the ice melted, global sea levels rose and drowned the former valley. The Cooley and Mournes Mountains form the eroded roots of ancient volcanoes with The Ring of Gullion suggesting its formation began by a colossal volcanic explosion 55-60 millions years ago.
These picturesque mountainous areas are steeped in legend. Our national epic “An Tain Bo Cuailgne” – the infamous struggle between Cú Chulainn and Queen Medbh for The Great Brown Bull of Cooley has as its setting the very same mountains on which Finn Mac Cool stood to fight the giant Ruiscaire and melted him into Rostrevor Mountain. So fatigued was Finn that he lay down on the mountains and slept and is still sleeping now as his outline can be seen on Slieve Foy.
The lough is reminiscent of Fjords found in Norway though with a much milder climate and was an ideal focal point for much Viking activity who gave the name Carlingford to the Lough and settlement on the southern shore. From here they were able to navigate the Newry (Clanrye) river in their shallow Viking boats raiding as far inland as Armagh City targeting monasteries and churches en route. Carlingford Lough provided a strategic staging point for sorties into the interior and further along the coast. All that remains today of the Vikings in the area is the name Carlingford.
During the medieval period, the strategic significance of Carlingford Lough was clearly recognized by the Anglo Normans upon their arrival in Ireland. They were determined to secure it by constructing two castles, one at Carlingford on the southern shore and at Greencastle on the northern shore. This vital stretch of water leads to the Gap of the North and inland Ulster, historically one of the principal entrances to Ireland, the castles of Carlingford and Greencastle were considered to be of great importance. Today, Carlingford is one of Ireland’s best preserved medieval towns, a linear settlement with typical medieval patterns, burgage plots, defensive walls, narrow streets, Friary and urban Tower Houses. Much of this heritage and atmosphere remains today.
Examples of the late Medieval period in the area is reflected in the ecclesiastical and secular buildings of the landed ascendancy and their established church. The landscape and towns on either side of the Lough have fine architectural examples such as Kilkeel Church, Carlingford Friary and St Patrick’s Church in Newry City.
The Newry Canal and Victoria Lock completed in 1741 to ship coal to Dublin from Lough Neagh in Ulster connects with the Irish Sea in Carlingford Lough, this was the first “summit level” canal constructed in the British Isles since Roman times and is an excellent example of our Industrial Heritage and by the 1800s Newry replaced Carlingford as the major port in the area. In the 1870s the Railway from Greenore to Newry was constructed linking Carlingford Lough to Holyhead in Wales, now defunct its legacy is still to be seen and appreciated in the unique Railway Village of Greenore.