While the lough is well-known for its lakeside walks, angling and boating, it is probably most associated with the Irish myth of the Children of Lir.
The story goes that when Bodb Derg was elected king of the Tuatha Dé Danann, Ancient Ireland’s supernatural answer to Charlie’s Angels, all of his rivals consented to this except King Lir. Rather than just tell him to suck it up, Bodb Derg decided to set Lir up with his daughter Aoibh. This was a success and together with her, Lir had four children: Fionnuala, Aodh, Fiachra and Conn. Unfortunately, Aoibh soon died in a horrible BBC mispronunciation accident. Bodb Derg, sensing Lir’s sadness, decided to arrange a second marriage with his other daughter Aoife and it was from this that things went down-hill.
Aoife, jealous of the affection that Lir showered onto his children, plotted to get rid of them. However, neither she nor her servant could perform the gruesome task of murder so instead she turned the children into swans and set them out into the neighbouring Lough Derravaragh.
While this was obviously disastrous for the kids (there were very few job opportunities in Ireland at the time for swans), what was even more tragic was that the children had to then spend the next 300 years on Lough Derravaragh, 300 years in the Sea of Moyle, and finally 300 years on the Isle of Innihglora in Mayo before a pagan druid would be able to bless them and break the spell. To add insult to injury, by the time 900 years were up, St Patrick had converted all of Ireland to Christianity and there were no pagan druids left!
As to how the story ends, there are several endings to the Children of Lir:
1. Some say the Christian monk Mochua in Mayo took pity on the children and was able to break the spell, thus turning them back into withered old people who they lived out their final days.
2. Others talk of a failed attack by Lairgean, the King of Connacht, on Mochua’s sanctuary to capture the swans. During this raid, a silver chain that had previously been unremarked upon but now linked them together broke and the swans turned back to humans and promptly died.
3. Others still tell of how St Patrick met the swans, who told him their story. Bringing them back to his house, they heard Christian bells toll and were turned back to humans, at which point St Patrick baptised them. However, because they were now 900-year-old humans they died soon after. Good job St Patrick! Finally, in the Director’s Cut, after 900 years in the wilderness, they met that last remaining pagan druid who changed them back to humans, at which point Fionnuala is said to have uttered ‘I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time ... like tears in rain ... Time to die.’