The Virtues of Lough Neagh

Patrick Weston Joyce

The great Lough Neagh in Ulster had a property as curious as any to be found in the records of natural history. If a stake of holly were driven down into the bottom and left standing there, at the end of seven years the part that was sunk in the ground was found to be iron, the part that was in the water was turned to stone, while the part that was over water was still nothing but holly. The Kongs Skuggio notices this wonder, and adds that no other wood but holly will suffer change.

This wonder is mentioned without the least question as to its truth, by several foreign writers; as by Nennius, and by Boethius in his "History of Stones and Gems"; and at the present day, in every part of Ireland, the people believe that the water of Lough Neagh will turn holly into stone. A very intelligent Limerick man once told me that the best razor hones in the world are procured in the following way:—cut a piece of holly into the shape of a hone and secure it at the bottom of the lake: at the end of seven years you will have, not a piece of holly, but a real hone, so excellent that it will make a razor sharp enough, as he expressed it, to shave a mouse asleep. Geologists tell us, however, that the water of Lough Neagh has no petrifying quality. Yet the rise of this legend was natural enough, as we shall see when we know all the circumstances. Curious stones are found on the shore and in the neighbourhood of Lough Neagh, many of them retaining both the shape and the grain of pieces of wood. They are in fact petrified wood; but the petrifactions took place in old geological ages, millions of years ago, long before the lake was formed.