Sarah Clarke: Those around Lough Neagh hope their cries for help have been heard

Legend has it that in a temper the giant Finn McCool lifted a handful of earth and threw it in the sea.

It was so big that where it landed formed the Isle of Man and the hollow left behind became the present day Lough Neagh.

It’s lesser known folklore to that of the Giant’s Causeway but the myths surrounding this vast expanse of water have inspired generations.

The late poet and Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney wrote in the opening lines of ‘A Lough Neagh Sequence’: The Lough will claim a victim every year It has virtue that hardens wood to stone There is a town sunk beneath its water It is the scar left by the Isle of Man. To people around its shores the lough is a way of life and an inseparable part of their identity.

They have known of the problems for years and have told us that, despite repeated calls for help, the lough has been ignored.

They believe that’s now changed. Or at least they hope it has.

Because, despite bordering five of the six counties of Northern Ireland and providing almost half of our drinking water, before the algae crisis for many of us - I’m ashamed to admit myself included - the lough just wasn’t on our radar.

What really struck me was its sheer size - it is after all the largest freshwater lake in these islands.

We ventured out on the lough and looking out from the tiny RIB it felt like being at sea - literally and figuratively - so complex were the issues we were examining.

Time would not permit us to look at everything but in the succinct phrase used by Queen’s university Professor John Barry: “It’s crap going into the lough, capitalism - the structure of the economy - and then colonialism in terms of this bizarre mediaeval ownership of the bed of the lough which should really be in public hands.”

The algae has served as a wake up call for all of us. It’s shown us how our actions affect our very close environment and how dependent we are on our natural world.

As former MP and civil rights campaigner Bernadette McAliskey said: “There’s been an awakening to the realisation that the lough is important to the lives of everybody. Now we have your attention, that is something that shouldn't be lost.

“We should use this momentum - not to have these nonsense arguments over who's to blame and who's going to take what off who but how are we going to start from here - to pull things back.” Up Close: What Lies Beneath airs on UTV on Thursday 16 November at 10.45pm. The programme was produced and directed by Brendan Mc Court and is presented by UTV reporter Sarah Clarke. It will be available online here.

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