Lough Neagh was no different from anywhere else in Ireland in that throughout history agriculture has been the main occupation of the lower classes. However, the type of agriculture practiced here varied from shore to shore due mainly to variations in the landscape characteristics found around the shores of the Lough.
The flat open grasslands which rise behind the shoreline in the north and northeast corner of the Lough are more suited to pasture and here the shoreline settlement consists of farms and small groups of houses. In contrast, flat arable fields lying behind the marshy eastern shoreline support large-scale farmland and traditionally this has been the best agricultural land. Moving south towards Landy Bay the shoreline rises to a pastureland of large fields which gives way to the flat low-lying scrubby fenland of Portmore Lough, and settlement here is of small farmsteads dotted along narrow roads.
The southern shore, stretching from the southeast to southwest corners of the Lough, consists of low lying marshy, peatland with small protruding drumlins. Traditionally settlement was confined to the drumlins but extensive drainage works during the 18th and 19th century provided land suitable for both settlement and pasture. From Washingbay to south of the Moyola river, widespread pasture is to be found on the relatively low-lying flood plain of the Ballinderry River. Recent times have seen a concentration of new builds close to the shore but traditionally settlement was situated on higher land to the west.
Extensive flat pastureland interspersed with bog extends north of the Moyola to the west bank of the Lower Bann at Toome. Prior to the lowering of the Lough’s water levels between 1850 and 1950, this area was flooded for many months of the year, rendering it unusable. Apart from the fishermen settlement along the shore at Airfield Road, settlement was traditionally confined to higher ground to the north and northwest.
It must be pointed out that landscape characteristics did not confine small tenant farmers to one particular type of faming; crops would have been grown by all though some areas would have required more in the way of manures or fertilisers of lime and gravel than other.
Seasonal migration was a common occurrence for the labouring class around the Lough. Mostly people went to Scotland at harvest time but returned home for the winter harvest. Records show that the parishes on the northern shore from Ardtrea to Drummaul experienced the most emigration, Ardtrea in particular but this was to be expected as it was one of the poorest areas surrounding the Lough. Conversely, on the eastern shore, many labourers from the Tyrone and Derry shores migrated here during the harvest season such was the scale of agriculture produced.