All the elements of post-Plantation urban planning are well to the fore in MONAGHAN town, which derived its prosperity from the linen industry and was long the base of a British garrison. To gain some understanding of the area’s development, the best starting-point is the Monaghan County Museum, just up Hill Street, which recounts local history through a varied selection of displays and interactive touch-screens, and features archeological finds, traditional crafts, railway memorabilia and an assortment of paintings, prints and photographs. The most exceptional exhibit is the Cross of Clogher, a glorious, finely worked silver cross dating from the early fifteenth century. The museum also hosts a changing programme of temporary exhibitions. Just downhill from here on Market Street is the late eighteenth-century Market House, a charming, arched limestone edifice whose exterior is embellished with exquisite carvings of oak apples and leaves, which hosts occasional arts and literary events.
County Monaghan’s other areas of interest are scattered around and about: Inniskeen in the southeast and, in the north and west respectively, Glaslough and Clones.Read More
Best accessed from Dundalk, a dozen kilometres east, the village of INNISKEEN was the birthplace of the influential poet and writer Patrick Kavanagh. His grave can be found beside St Mary’s Church, while the church annexe houses the Patrick Kavanagh Rural and Literary Resource Centre, which has stacks of memorabilia related to the poet, as well as a specially commissioned series of twelve paintings based upon his epic and extraordinarily emotive poem The Great Hunger. The centre stages several weekends devoted to poetry and writing, plus an annual weekend in late November celebrating Kavanagh’s life and work.
Eleven kilometres northeast of Monaghan lies the somewhat otherworldly estate village of GLASLOUGH, dominated by a lengthy Famine wall which surrounds the estate of Castle Leslie. The Leslie family can reputedly trace back its origins to Attila the Hun and arrived in Ireland in 1633 in the shape of John Leslie who had been appointed Bishop of Raphoe. A colourful character, Leslie became known as the “fighting bishop”, thanks to his victory as leader of an army over Cromwell at the Battle of Raphoe. When Charles II was restored to the throne, Leslie received £2000 as a reward for loyalty and used the sum to purchase Glaslough Castle and its demesne in 1665. His descendants have remained in occupation ever since and have included some equally intriguing figures. John Leslie’s son Charles was charged with high treason for arguing a little too strenuously against the penal laws, but escaped and fled to France. Subsequently pardoned by George I, he returned to Glaslough where his children often entertained Jonathan Swift, who was not always complimentary about them in return:
Here I am In Castle Leslie
With Rows And Rows Of Books Upon The Shelves
Written By The Leslies
All About Themselves.
The current and very grand castle was built in the late nineteenth century and the family became connected by marriage to the Churchills – both Randolph and Winston stayed here. Later owners included Desmond Leslie who authored Flying Saucers Have Landed, a supposedly factual account of the first alien contact with humans.
Nowadays Castle Leslie (wwww.castleleslie.com) is an utterly majestic, thoroughly relaxing place to stay, and is often patronized by the rich and famous. Even if you’re not planning to stay overnight, you can still enjoy the atmosphere here by taking afternoon tea, or sampling the evening menu. Otherwise you’re free to wander the estate, arrange fishing in the lake (renowned for its enormous pike), take a course at the cookery school, or book one of the many riding packages provided by the equestrian centre.
Near the border with Fermanagh, the lively town of CLONES (pronounced “clo-nez”) lies 20km southwest of Monaghan town, overlooking drumlin country from its hilltop perch. St Tiernach founded a monastery here in the sixth century and is supposedly buried in a reliquary stone coffin in a small graveyard off Ball Alley Lane, near which are the remains of a ninth-century round tower which was originally five storeys high. The monastic settlement was subsequently superseded by an Augustinian foundation and the sparse remains of the abbey are just a little way to the east, across MacCurtain Street. The town’s other significant relic is a richly carved high cross, which stands in the Diamond, somewhat overshadowed by the sombre shape of St Tiernach’s Church (Church of Ireland). The cross’s front panels depict scriptural scenes, such as the Garden of Eden, while the reverse is devoted to scenes from Christ’s life.
Just west of the town centre, above Cara Street, is the site of a Neolithic hill fort, which was used as the foundations for a short-lived twelfth-century Norman castle that was razed to the ground by local chieftains. Indeed the English did not regain control of Clones until 1601 and much of the contemporary town owes its layout to that period, while the presence of both Presbyterian and Methodist churches (John Wesley preached here several times in the 1770s) bears testament to the Plantation. In the nineteenth century prosperity arrived in Clones via the railways and the Ulster Canal, which connected Belfast to Lough Erne. At the bottom of Cara Street stands the Ulster Canal Stores, which at one time served as the distribution centre for wares arriving in Clones by water. Nowadays it houses small displays on the railways, lace-making and independence (Clones was a strong Republican base), as well as works by local artists.
The area around Clones has a strong tradition of lace-making, a generally home-based industry which, at its peak in the 1850s, saw more than 1500 workers supplying markets as far afield as Paris, Rome and New York. Passed on from mother to daughter, the lace-making craft was introduced to Clones by the wife of the local Church of Ireland rector, Cassandra Hands, as a means of supplying income in the desperate post-Famine times. Rather than following the time-consuming Venetian needlework style, Clones women opted for a crochet hook as a means of expediency, and began producing work embellished by the flora of their local environs, often characterized by the multi-twirled Clones knot. Clones lace was embroidered into blouses and dresses, but its own elaborate style was gradually replaced by simpler designs. Nevertheless, it remains an important local tradition and, in 1989, a co-operative was established to reinvigorate the craft. There are still several lace-makers in the area and some of their work is on display at the Ulster Canal Stores (wwww.cloneslace.com) where you can enquire about the possibility of purchasing their wares.