Often overlooked, County Monaghan’s vibrant landscape – Full of gentle hills, glistening lakes and small idyllic market towns – provides a true glimpse into Irish rural life. The County is well-known as the birthplace of the poet Patrick Kavanagh and the images evoked by his poems and prose relate to rural life, run at a slow pace. Throughout Monaghan there are no dramatic visual shifts. No towering peaks, ragged cliffs or expansive lakes. This is an area off the well-beaten tourist trail. A quiet county with a sense of awaiting discovery… a palpable feeling of genuine surprise. However, there’s a side to Monaghan that packs a little more punch than that. Here you will find a friendly atmosphere and activities to suit most interests with glorious greens for golfing, a host of watersports and outdoor pursuits and a wealth of heritage sites to whet your appetite for adventure and discovery.
County Monaghan takes its name from the Irish ‘Muineacháin’, meaning ‘little hills’. Inhabited from an early era, many relics of the Bronze Age have been unearthed throughout the county over the years. It was later the centre and heartland of the Kingdom of Oriel, and an ancient monument at Donaghmoyne is reputed to have been the residence of the Kings of Oriel. The arrival of Christianity saw Saint Patrick visit several locations in the county, while his ‘right-hand man’ – Saint Macartan became patron of the Clogher Diocese of which County Monaghan forms approximately one half. Tiernach of Clones and Dympna of Tydavnet later became two of Ireland’s best known saints.
The Vikings were invaders during the 10th – 11th centuries while the Normans arrived thereafter. Prior to the 17th century Plantations, County Monaghan was ruled by the McMahons who controlled four fifths of its area, and the McKennas who controlled the remaining one fifth. When the Elizabethans decided in 1585 to divide Ulster into ‘shire-land’, the boundaries of the county were laid out, roughly the same as today’s, but it was not until the first decade of the 17th century that the county was officially formed and named.
County Monaghan was among the more severely affected counties during the Great Famine of the 1840’s, being listed in the half-dozen worst hit in all Ireland. In 1921 County Monaghan became a ‘Border County’ and suffered a great deal from the imposed division of the country.
Today there are many heritage sites around the county which bear testament to its rich and varied past. There are heritage trails in several of the towns and villages which feature key sites of interest and there are guided options available too which add to the experience. Sites of particular interest outside of the town trails include Errigal Truagh and Donagh old graveyards, the Temple in Dartrey and Drumirril Rock Art site.
Of the many thousands of Irish immigrants who settled in Prince Edward Island in the first half of the 19th century, the largest single group of these originated from Monaghan, most notably from the north of the county. Monaghan County Council has forged long-standing twinning arrangements with Prince Edward Island (PEI), Peterborough, Ontario and the city of Miramichi in Canada.
The municipal twinning agreement with PEI dates from 1994 as it is within this small island that the most concentrated population of Monaghan descendants exists today outside of Ireland. The agreement with Miramichi dates from 1999. There has been a good level of engagement over the years between local and community representatives from both countries with some delegations representing Monaghan at the annual Canadian Irish Festival in Miramichi. In addition to this, several tour groups from Canada have incorporated visits to Monaghan in their Irish itineraries.
In 2016, for the first time ever, a ‘Canada Day’ festival was held in Monaghan to remember the several thousand Monaghan natives who emigrated to Canada almost two centuries ago. The rationale for the festival was to acknowledge the shared culture, heritage and genealogy between the communities in both countries. The festival included a lecture on the shared history and a variety of guided bus and walking tours through parishes and sites of significance relating to life in Monaghan many years ago and relevant to the emigration of large numbers from Ireland to North America.
Because of the common bond of St. Dympna, Tydavnet and a small town in Northern Belgium – ‘Gheel’ twinned in 1992. The twinning arrangement has remained strong and community groups have travelled to and fro between the two countries on several occasions since then.
St. Dympna is said to have stopped in Tydavnet whilst fleeing to Belgium to escape the wrath of her pagan father. According to local tradition she took refuge in the townland of Caldavnet, the historical site of her principal church in Ireland and a holy well dedicated to her, and later performed a miracle in a house in the village, hence the name ‘Tigh Damhnait’ or ‘House of Dympna/Davnet’. She is the patron saint of the mentally afflicted and the patroness of the diocese of Clogher. Her shrine at Gheel in Belgium, the site of her eventual martyrdom, is world famous.
Carrickmacross and Carhaix were formally twinned in 1996 and the twentieth anniversary of this successful town twinning was celebrated in the Breton town over the Easter weekend in 2016. A large group of Irish visitors, including members of the local Comhaltas group attended the celebrations. It is estimated that over nine hundred adults and young people have participated in group exchanges or holidays over the years there has been significant links between musicians formed as a result of the involvement of Comhaltas in the twinning.
Castleblayney and Marseillan began twinning discussions a few years before the official Charter was signed in Marseillan in April 2013. Since the first visit in 2010 up until today, there have been numerous reciprocal visits between civic leaders, individuals, groups, musicians and business leaders from the two towns. These have also included a four day visit to Castleblayney by a twenty strong group of army veterans and quite recently members of the Lisnagrieve Pipe Band travelled out to Marseillan to perform at their Easter Celebrations. Other projects and visits including a promotional photography exchange, student exchanges and festival linkages have also been facilitated by both towns.
Ballybay is twinned with Gergweis-Osterhofen in Bavaria since 2000. Group visits have taken place back and forth and an Oktober Fest has been run in Ballybay for a number of years. In April 2016 a group of 22 students and 4 teachers from Osterhofen came for four days and visited the Ballybay Wetlands Centre, Ballybay College and Lough Mourne Shooting Grounds. They also travelled to Belfast and Dublin.