A unique visitors centre has officially opened at Lough Neagh Eel Fishery in Toome. The creation of the Lough Neagh Fisheries Visitor Centre at the largest eel fishery in Europe has been made possible by funding from Lough Neagh Partnership through the Landscape Partnership scheme, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
The project celebrates Lough Neagh fish, which have been awarded a range of accolades including PGI status for Lough Neagh eel and PDO status for Lough Neagh pollan.
The exhibition is a multifaceted showcase of the heritage of eel and scale fish fishing on Lough Neagh, the legendary status of the lough and the folklore surrounding it.
It unfolds the mystique of the fish indigenous to Lough Neagh, including eel, pollan and dollaghan (brown trout) and turns fishery folklore into fishery fact in a visually captivating, fun and informative manner with something for visitors of every age and generation.
Dr William Burke of Lough Neagh Partnership said: “This unique exhibition provides a fascinating opportunity for visitors to learn at first hand about the renowned Lough Neagh eel and scale fish which are native to the lough.
“Those interested in the history, tradition and folklore of the region can learn about adopted fishing practices which date back to Mesolithic times.
“We are proud that Lough Neagh Partnership has been instrumental in taking the vision for the Lough Neagh Fisheries Visitor Centre and making it a reality.
“Visitors can opt for guided tours of the exhibition which depict the different fishing methods with actual examples of fishing tackle on display.
“They can take a seat at the demonstration longline to get a feel for the fisherman’s preparation before heading out on the lough and they can immerse themselves in the words of Seamus Heaney contained in extracts from ‘The Lough Neagh Sequence’ describing fishing practices on the lough.”
Pat Close, chairman of the Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-operative Society (LNFCS), said: “The opening of the Lough Neagh Fisheries Visitor Centre is the perfect way to share its historic development with the general public.
“In addition to celebrating the cultural heritage of the industry, the new centre offers visitors a tremendous insight into the fascinating life cycle of the species to be found in Lough Neagh, including their unique origins (particularly the pollan species) and in the case of eels their spectacular migratory characteristics.
“There has always been a great deal of interest in the workings of the fishing industry on Lough Neagh and development of this Visitors Centre within the centrally located and spacious site at Toome provides the perfect means to bring that story to a wider audience.
“We are extremely grateful for the support provided by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Lough Neagh Partnership and Mid Ulster District Council in helping to bring this project to fruition.”
Councillor Sean McPeake, chair of Mid Ulster District Council, said: “Lough Neagh enjoys a global reputation for the quality of its fish and is, of course, synonymous with eels which are exported to restaurants across the world.
“Now, with the development of this new visitor centre and exhibition, visitors can get a real taste of the history of the fishing industry on these waters, how it has evolved over millennia, and its significance for this part of the country and its people.
“Mid Ulster District Council is pleased to have contributed to the project. We see this centre playing an important part in the drive to grow tourism in the area, and it perfectly complements other attractions, including Seamus Heaney HomePlace, which itself pays tribute to the lough via the work of one of our most celebrated writers. I am delighted to see the new facility open and look forward to its success”.