At the northern tip of Ireland’s Ancient East, Monaghan’s lush surroundings reveal fascinating heritage sites, a coloured cultural past and its historic geographic origins. Just under two hours’ drive from Belfast and Dublin, discover places like the Round Tower in Clones or the architectural oddity of St Peter’s Tin Church in Laragh. Stretch your legs at Rossmore Forest Park, where you can stumble upon no less than eight lakes and explore the ruins of the early 19th century castle hidden inside its grounds. Monaghan, you see, is a pocket of pure natural delights.
Words of wisdom
Although he spent much of his life in Dublin, Monaghan poet, Patrick Kavanagh’s spiritual home was the “stony grey soil” of his childhood home, a quiet, landscape of lakes and hills around Iniskeen. This remarkable wordsmith’s talent is remembered at the Patrick Kavanagh Rural and Literary Resource Centre in the village. Or you can walk in his shoes along the farmland that inspired him by following the 13.5km Patrick Kavanagh Trail.
“They said that I was bounded by the white thorn hedges of the little farm and did not know the world. But I knew that love’s doorway to life is the same doorway everywhere.”
Kavanagh, though, wasn't the only writer from Monaghan. Playwright Eugene McCabe and Thomas Bracken, who wrote New Zealand’s national anthem, both hail from the town of Clones. Like Monaghan itself, this little town punches above its weight in talent. Literally. It was also the birthplace of former world featherweight boxing champion Barry McGuigan – aka The Clones Cyclone.
The invisible hand of time
Of course, Monaghan’s lakes and drumlins don’t just inspire writers and artists. Created by glaciers retreating during the last Ice Age, this undulating landscape has been some 10,000 years in the making.
If you’re a walker, dip into the range of routes in the Sliabh Beagh Mountains, or the 64km Monaghan Way leading from Monaghan town to Kavanagh’s own Iniskeen. If you prefer Wellington boots to hiking boots, Monaghan has a multitude of rivers and lakes offering anglers great stocks of bream, roach and pike. Many of those anglers end up having entire patches to themselves.
This quiet countryside has its vigorous side, too. Could you picture yourself waterskiing along Lough Muckno; driving full pelt at Rally School Ireland; galloping on horseback across hills and around lakesides; or teeing off on any number of parkland courses? We bet you can.
From lace to late nights
Sports stars and literary heavyweights are mere pups in comparison to some of Monaghan’s historical stars. The county boasts several Bronze Age megalithic sites, a 10th-century High Cross in the middle of Clones, and the prehistoric Tullyrain Ring Fort near Shantonagh. Castle Leslie, a plush Victorian pile and a sometime venue for international celebrity weddings, was even home to the first plumbed bathtub in Ireland!
In the 19th century, lace-making also became important to the area, and you can see the intricate results on display at the Carrickmacross Lace Gallery. The name may already be familiar to you, as it’s famed for the lace used to adorn the late Princess Diana’s wedding dress.
If you want to mix all of Monaghan’s craft, culture and craic together, then hit the Harvest Time Blues Festival, the Flat Lake Festival, and of course, the Annual Patrick Kavanagh weekend…
Surely that’s enough to bring the inner poet out in you?