Midway between Belfast and Dublin, a day trip to Monaghan – or better still, a staycation – presents a wealth of free things to do and see. From world-famous lace and an award-winning county museum, to heritage trails, scenic walks and perfect picnic spots, Monaghan remains one of the gems of Ireland’s Ancient East, ripe for discovery. Monaghan is the ultimate great value staycation destination, and the county doesn’t short-change when it comes to free activities, either.
Here are eleven of the best free things to do in Monaghan:
Locals are rightly proud of Monaghan County Museum with its expertly curated exhibitions, such as the current ‘Monaghan’s War of Independence 1919-1921’, which tells the colourful story of the parts played by the county and its characters during a bloody period of Irish history.
Carrickmacross Lace gained worldwide repute as a style adored by royalty, including Queen Victoria, Princess Diana and, most recently, the Duchess of Cambridge. A visit to the newly renovated Carrickmacross Lace Gallery is a must, to see some of the most exquisite examples of this delicate craft on display, as well as to meet the talented lacemakers working hard to keep its legacy alive.
Another fabulous free thing to do in Monaghan, the fairytale St Peter’s Tin Tabernacle in Laragh Village is unique in Ireland for its design and quirky features. Lovingly restored to its former glory by passionate locals, the iconic edifice is built on a rock and fashioned from tin.
Pop inside to see the intricately carved pulpit and dazzling stained glass. Meanwhile, enjoy a picnic outside and take a stroll along the stream with its sweeping countryside views.
Monaghan has no shortage of gorgeous picnic spots, but Lough Muckno Leisure Park deserves a special mention for its recently upgraded facilities, complete with new picnic benches and coffee trailer. Simply sit and watch the world go by, or enjoy a stroll around Black Island, which brims with bluebells in the springtime.
Don’t forget to pay homage to local legend Big Tom by the statue just outside the park gates.
Follow free self-guided Town trails covering Clones, Castleblayney, Carrickmacross and Monaghan taking in heritage highlights and little-known gems at entirely your own pace.
Linked by a Thread, a stunning new free exhibition at Ulster Canal Stores in Clones, weaves the tale of this unique form of crochet lace, from its humble beginnings as a social enterprise in the post-famine period of the 1850’s, to its revival by dedicated locals in the 1880’s.
This is the only museum dedicated entirely to the crochet lace, and the collection contains stunning antique pieces, including jaw-dropping wedding dresses.
Available for free download from all the usual app stores, the Glaslough Heritage Trail is a guided, hour-long amble through one of the prettiest villages in Ireland. Along the way, you’ll hear the fascinating stories of the Leslie family and the village community, and the way the two have been closely linked for over 350 years.
Dartrey Forest was formerly the estate of the Dawson family, and is bordered by a Famine wall which stretches half-way along the road from Cootehill to Rockcorry. The landscape of the forest and surrounding area is especially beautiful, being composed of a series of lakes joined by the Dromore River.
In Knockatallon, in the far north of the county, lies rugged blanket boglands traversed by four looped walks. Monaghan native, Caitriona Balfe, describes Bragan as “one of my favourite places in Monaghan. It is wild, desolate and usually free from other people.” While local designer, Helen Steele, has shot fashion campaigns here. The walks range from 6-10km in length: two are on quiet country roads that are suitable for all abilities and two are over more challenging terrain such as forest tracks and open moorland.
Free things to do in Monaghan don’t come any more entertaining than Rossmore Forest Park, just outside Monaghan Town. The park appeals to all ages, with nature trails, wooded walks, sites of historic interest, picnic areas, playpark and a family cycling trail en route (coming September 2021). Look out for wildlife including otters, badgers, hedgehogs and foxes, as well as an impressive display of rhododendron and azalea in full bloom in early summer.
The town of Ballybay is home to three looped Walking Trails ranging from 500m to 4.5km in length with pretty Lough Major at the centre.
While just outside town, on the Clones Road, lies 65 acres of wetlands, a year-round refuge for a wide spectrum of wildlife and waterfowl.
For more great value staycation inspiration and to browse a full list of free things to do in Monaghan, visit: