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Standing on the stoop of his holiday cottage looking out over the water of Lough Foyle, he was struck by how closely the 44,000 acre estuary matched his expectations. With its rocky shore set against the backdrop of County Donegal's cliffs and mountains, Lough Foyle (Irish name-Loch Feabhail) is exactly what he hoped the northern coast of Ireland would be like. Quaint villages tucked around the shores of the Lough and a region that measures its time in millennia instead of centuries promised a vacation sure to exceed his expectations.
A shallow coastal embayment, Lough Foyle swells at the mouth of the River Foyle and meets the North Atlantic Ocean on the northern coast of Ireland. It receives most of its water from the Rivers Foyle, Faughan and Roe; the river inflows combined with the ocean tides impact the estuary's salinity. Lough Foyle has a maximum depth of 50 feet and an average depth of 17 feet. Over 20 percent of its area, however, is intertidal mudflats. The 5,447-acre Lough Foyle Ramsar Site is considered a wetland of international importance and includes the mudflats, sand flats and salt marsh that ring Lough Foyle.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has a reserve at Lough Foyle, and it is the resting place of a variety of wintering waterfowl including the whooper swan, light-bellied brent goose and the bartailed godwit. The lough is also home to several kinds of grebes, swans and plovers. The fishing is excellent, and Lough Foyle supports commercial mussel and salmon fisheries. In addition to the Atlantic salmon that migrate through the lough to spawn, Lough Foyle has allis shad, smelt and sea lamprey.
There are tens of thousands of acres of water for boating on Lough Foyle, and many of the holiday cottages and vacation rentals provide access to boats. Yacht and boat rentals, and the marinas and facilities that support them, can be found all around the lough. During the summer, the Greencastle-Magilligan Ferry takes passengers on a mile long ride between the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal and Coltraine in Northern Ireland.
Lough Foyle is wedged between Northern Ireland and the Inishowen Peninsula in the Republic of Ireland. Also known as the "Island of Eoghain" and named for one of the sons of a high king of Ireland, Inishowen is the largest peninsula in Ireland and the country's most northern point. It is part of the County of Donegal and has some of the most beautiful iconographic scenery in the country. Cliffs and mountains meet rock-strewn coasts surrounded by a countryside dotted with thatched cottages and the remnants of stone castles and abbeys.
History lies thousands of years deep in North West Ireland, and there plenty of castles and ruins to explore. The Circle Ring Fort is a stone fort dating back at least until 500 BC and perhaps as far back as 5,000 years. One of the strongholds of the Clan O'Dochertaigh, Burt Castle was built in the 16th century during the reign of Henry VIII. The remains of the castle are on private land, but visitors can get close enough by car to see the huge stone ring. The Glenveagh National Park has a castle visitors can tour. Built in 1870, the granite castle was part of the Glenveagh Estate. The estate became part of the national park in 1983 and was opened to the public in 1986. The national park encompasses almost 40,000 acres in the Derryveagh Mountains and provides visitors with ample opportunities for hill walking and bird watching. It is also home to the largest red deer herd in Ireland.
The villages of Moville, Quigley's Point, Muff, Derry and Redcastle sprout along the shores of Lough Foyle, all with their own restaurants, pubs, shops and self-catering rentals. Any of the villages would provide a great home base to explore Lough Foyle and the County of Donegal. Beautiful rugged scenery, coastline views of the Atlantic Ocean, abundant seafood and spectacular golf combine with the rich history of the Inishowen Peninsula to make Lough Foyle a northwest Irish destination that far surpasses visitors' expectations.
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