Lesser spotted Monaghan! What secrets lie hidden in the depths of the Drumlin Belt?

Monaghan is a county with a rich history that stretches back thousands of years. During the Celtic era the original name for parts of Monaghan was the  Oriel County meaning  “those who give hostages” or “the hostage givers.”  The area is also associated with the ominous-sounding the “Black Pigs Dyke” which was a huge timber structure and earth embankment that ran for miles along the frontiers of the county.

Historians reckon that the Black Pigs Dyke was a structure which was used to keep out Cattle raiders and other undesirables many thousands of years ago. All in all,  you know if you’re entering a place that is renowned for Hostage takers and Black Pigs Dykes its a pretty sure bet that you’re entering into an area where traditionally strangers feared to tread. And some still do.

Only a short number of years ago if a man from a few miles outside the parish dared to venture into another parish or townland he would have been known as “a blow in”. He was a leper, wearing the mark of Cain. Passports would have been required. Passport control comprised of a thump on the jaw. If the stranger walked into a pub in the next village the music would fall silent and everyone would turn around with their jaws pinned to the floor with astonishment almost as if an alien from outer space had just entered the building and ordered a pint of the black stuff. But times have changed. Nowadays, Monaghan is a modern vibrant county where law-abiding people from all over the world are welcomed.

In my previous blog, I gave an overview of some of the more well-known sites in Monaghan, but in this blog I will focus on some of the lesser-known hotspots that lie hidden right under our noses.

The Monaghan way

The Monaghan Way is a long-distance walk which starts in Clontibret and stretches all the way to Inniskeen. The walk encompasses over 33 miles and takes in some of Monaghan’s stunning scenery. Ok, it isn’t exactly akin to the world-famous Camino de Santiago which goes from the Pyrenees in France right into the heart of Spain but the Monaghan way has its own sort of romance.

Them French and Spanish aristocrats can have their fancy vineyards and olive trees.  Can you get a decent pint of Guinness on the Camino?Of course not. Anyways, vineyards, white white, red wine, pints of the black stuff, it doesn’t matter what beverage is on the table we’d drink the bastards under the table!

Imagine an elite squad of drinkers assembled from the cream of Ballybay, Castleblayney, Carrickmacross, Magheracloone, Inniskeen, etc. It would be like a whose who of the best in Ireland. An all-star champions league squad. We wouldn’t be going for national honours we’d be going for world titles. The big time. A one on one face off against the Russians with the final being held in the wilds of Siberia.

In the ultimate finale, The Monaghan boys would be led out to the theme song from from the hit 80’s TV Show the A-Team, “Ten years ago a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a round of drink they didnt pay for. These men promptly escaped from a maximum-security stockade and proceeded to drink every alcoholic beverage in sight. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as drinkers of fortune. If you have a beer and no else can drink it….if you can find them….maybe you can hire…… the  A Team.”

It would be an inevitable world title victory for the boys in blue and white. Champions. But there’s much much more to Monaghan besides our warrior-like drinking abilities.

Big figures


Monaghan is home to and associated with some of the greatest literary and political figures in world history and one of those figures is the literary titan Oscar Wilde.

Wildes sisters are buried just outside Monaghan at Drumsnatt Church of Ireland. The inscription on the headstone reads,  “In memory of two loving and loved sisters, Emily Wilde aged 24 and Mary Wilde, aged 22, who lost their lives by accident in this parish, Nov 10th 1871. They were lovely and pleasant in their lives and in death they were not divided.”

Oscar Wildes father Sir William was a notorious philanderer and when the children where born out of wedlock they where sent away to be looked after by a relative, Ralph Wilde, who was the Rector of Drumsnatt church.
The girls were tragically killed in a fire but their deaths were kept under wraps in order to prevent Sir William from experiencing any embarrassment from the Dublin media.   Another unusual connection that Monaghan has is to Sir Winston Churchill. Sir Shane Leslie who was born near Glaslough was the first cousin of the legendary political leader.

Off the beaten track

In Monaghan, there are loads of small little villages and townlands that at face value don’t seem to offer much but when you dig a little deeper you begin to see that these places have a rich and vibrant history. Clontibret in north Monaghan is one of these places.

When one thinks of Clontibret the image that automatically floats into the mind is of a field abandoned amongst masses of other fields. A barren desert of nothingness except for cattle and farm animals wandering aimlessely about the place. A verifiable nuclear holocaust of dung, cattle, and dodgy diesel. But as is so often the case with Monaghan appearances can be very deceptive.

In 1595 Clontibret became the battleground between forces led by Hugh O Neill of Ulster and Sir Henry Baegnal. O Neill delivered a stunning victory by massacring over 700 of Baegnals most elite troops. In tribute to this victory the areas GAA team was named after O Neill and the team have continued their namesakes winning ways by amassing over 17 Monaghan senior titles.

A testament to the areas of grand ambitions is local man John O Neill who in 1866 and armed with only a motley crew of a few hundred soldiers invaded Canada and tried to take the country under the control of the Fenian Brotherhood.

Needless to say, O Neill’s crackpot scheme ended in complete disaster but the Clontibret man couldn’t be faulted for his aiming too low in life. In the late 1980s  Clontibret was the scene of much controvesy when Peter Robinson and a gang of loyalists invaded the area in an attempt to highlight the lax Irish border with Northern Ireland.

Not far away from Clonibret is the lovely little village of Glaslough, a place that has recently won the prestigious Irish tidy towns title. The village has some stunning Georgian buildings that really make it stand out. During the summer months, Glaslough comes alive with a vast array of stunning flowers and shrubs.

Monaghan is also home to a number of top-class golf courses, including Mannan Castle, Nuremore, Concra Wood, and Rossmore. So if you don’t buy into the Mark Twain saying that “Golf is a good walk spoiled” then the county could be the perfect place for you to swing your body into action.

In Monaghan town, You could always take a tour of the very underrated museum which comes equipped with a 12,000-year-old Irish deer skull that was found in Lough Muckno. Whilst there set your eyes on the 12th Century Cross of Clogher, Bronze age weapons, tools, and loads more.


Carrickmacross Monaghan
In Carrickmacross pay a visit to the 19th century Saint Josephs Church and amaze at the world-famous Harry Clarke stain-glassed windows. A guided walking tour of the town will give you an in-depth overview of the history of the place.

Outside of Carrickmacross, you could always take a sneaky look at Shirley’s Castle. A spooky gothic looking castle that wouldn’t be amiss in Bram Stokers horror Dracula.

Nearby, in Shirley’s Forest, you have Kilrock which comes equipped with a stone seat that is locally known as Finn McCools seat. The giant stone seat is etched into a small cliff face and resembles the indentations where a giants ass may have sat at some stage.  And if all of this touring sets your stomach rumbling the Farney County might just be the place for you to satisfy your appetite.


Mushrooms are to a Monaghan Man are what Cocaine is to a Colombian. The lifeblood of the economy. In Monaghan, when young kids are attempting to discover their origins, they aren’t told that they where found under a cabbage patch, they are told that they where discovered inside a punit of Mushrooms. Ok, I might be exaggerating slightly but the Mushroom industry is an integral part of the border economy.

But the Farney cuisine extends much further than Mushrooms with some top-notch food to be eaten the length and breadth of the county, The Court House in Carrickmacross is a Michelin winning restaurant. Ginos Chip Shop in Carrickmacross has caused many a man to suffer a premature cardiac arrest but the delicious fast food is usually worth any coronary blockage.

The Batch Loaf in Monaghan town has a reputation that precedes it. In the same town, The Indian Restaurant Monaghan Spice is listed as being one of the top 50 Indian Restaurants in Ireland.

Myths and fairies

If you’d like to veer off into the mythical or supernatural you could always check out some of the many fairy forts that populate the countryside.

These Forts are spread throughout the entire county and are usually recognised by a round circle of trees located in the middle of a field.

According to Duchas the last sighting of a fairy in Monaghan was over 100 years ago. “The fairies once dwelt in a forth called Clontreat Forth, situated on the by-road leading from Clones to Newbliss. They used to go out into Ferguson’s fields to play in the late hours of the night. They played round a lone-bush. The man who was living in Ferguson’s house often heard them at play…John McGuirk saw a fairy in a hole in the ground on the 19th  October, 1918 and that was the last fairy seen about the forth.”

If you’re visiting one of these fairy forts just be careful not to disturb it as the vengeful wrath of the fairies is legendary!



With a history stretching back thousands of years, there is much to see in Monaghan and in my previous blog I have gone into more detail on some of our more famous sites and landmarks but If you’re a tourist visiting the place or anyone else for that matter you’ll have to attend a Gaelic Football match. Gaelic games are the glue that keeps small places like Monaghan together. It’s Integral to our identity.

Our common ancestral heritage waged on the battlefields has been transported into sports . Now we wage war on the football field.  The stroke of a foot and the kick of a ball over the bar are the way we inflict damage. No longer do we need Black Pig Dykes to keep raiders out all we now need is the timing of a shoulder as an opposition player crashes onto the muddy ground causing their supporters to groan in horror when they lose the ball.

Our swords and knives have now become the midfielders and forwards who act in union, in harmony, to crash the ball into the opposition  net.  A stab to the gut of the invading posse. Our defenders become our shields.   Like a baying mob, the crowd roars its approval as they smell opposition blood, they smell victory.  The manager stands on the sidelines directing, orchestrating, urging his troops on like a latter-day Hugh O Neill. A name inscribed on the cup becomes like the scalp from yesteryear.

The spoils of battle. A triumphant victory parade is held through the centre of the town or village as the cup is held aloft for all to see. Victorious warriors. “Did you see the point he put over the bar?” They whisper in awe. The troops have returned home from the trenches victorious. Champions. Kings of the Gaelic football field. The true essence of the Farney County.

Check out my previous blog on Monaghan here.