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- In summer months ferry service to Lough Foyle operates between County Donegal and County L/Derry over Lough Foyle
Saint Aiden’s, Tamlaghard, Lough Foyle & Hezlett House
Magilligan's, Northern Ireland
The estuary of the river Foyle has created a wide basin beside the Magilligan sands. It is the largest of any Irish sea lough. The Faughan and the Roe also flow into it. All 3 rivers host salmon migrations. Middens of thousands of shells at the shore show that prehistoric people lived on the bivalves and molluscs, which still thrive in the sea lough today.
At the end of World War Two the last of the German Atlantic fleet of U-boat submarines were assembled in Lough Foyle before being scuttled out to sea.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reserve is the biggest in Ireland. Whooper swan, Brent geese and many other species overwinter on the lough.
Magilligan is now the beach within Lough Foyle, but it was originally the name for the whole district. It was named for MacGilligans country, a peninsula which lies in the northwest of County Londonderry. The massive sand flats extend to more than 32 square kilometres some of which is an army firing range and some is nature reserve.
A Martello Tower was built in 1812, as part of the defenses against a Napoleonioc invasion. It is a round tower mounting two 24 pounder guns and it has been beautifully restored.
At the point itself, there is the ferry terminus to Donegal and a popular bar and restaurant.
Beside these, the Point Cottages are a tasteful new development of mock fisherman’s dwellings that add considerably to the local environment.
Hezlett House was built in 1691 as a Glebe House or Rectory and it was used as the rector’s home until a much grander house was built in 1774. It is a remarkable survival for the cruck design of the original oak roof.
Hezlett House is thatched, restored with period furniture and cared for by the National Trust.
Saint Aiden’s at Magilligan is much older than Christianity. It was a sacred site of the Druids who had a sacred tree and a spring well with magical properties. Early Christian missionaries were instructed to take over Druidic places of worship for the first churches. ColmCille travelled often between his homeland in Donegal and Iona, finding sites for many churches on his way. In the 580s he came upon Tamlaghard and founded a church. In its early days it was guarded by a rath or earthen fort on the hillside above. The first oak church was very small, but it gained a reputation for great spirituality and attracted royalty and eminent holy men. The height of the graveyard mound is witness to these thousands of burials. One of these, St. Aidan, Bishop of Lindisfarne, was buried here by Colman, one of his successors.
As the reputation of the place increased in the Middle Ages, the present ruin was built. It was a long narrow building, lit by a single window in the east wall. A mortuary house was built beside it and Aidan’s bones were put in it.
A hole in the side was for believers to put their hand inside and touch the Saint’s bones as they prayed. The well, of course, became Saint Aidan’s well and retained its Druidic healing powers. People still come here to have their prayers answered. Some leave offerings of coins and some wet a tissue in the water and touch the part of their body which is infirm, leaving the tissue in the branches of the nearby tree. If a cure is needed for someone who is too ill to get to the well, some dust is taken from the graveyard and made into a paste with the well water The paste is put into a little container and taken to the sick person.
Dennis O’Hampsey also lies here. He was the last and greatest of the Irish Harpers and he is recorded as being the composer of Danny Boy, originally called O’Cahan’s Lament. He is said to have played the tune to Bonnie Prince Charlie.