David Tucker reveals what the north eastern inland county, described as ‘Ireland’s best kept secret’ has to offer.


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.

Clones Town (Cluain Eois) began as a monastic settlement c. 500 when St Tiernach founded his monastery there and this was the most important site in Monaghan for centuries afterwards. The tower, cross and church all belong to this period of Clones’ history.

The Round Tower is 75 feet with square headed doors and windows. Nearby is a shrine known as ‘St Tiernach’s shrine’ which is carved out of stone.

The Cross is in two parts which did not belong together originally. One side depicts the sacrifice of Isaac, Daniel in the lions den and Adam and Eve. The opposite side features the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, the wedding feast at Cana and the adoration of the Magi. The other sides are decorated with geometric symbols. The cross is believed to originate from the 9th century.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own