- 1 Monaghan is the county town and transport hub. It has the County Museum and a fine cathedral.
- 2 Clones on the border has an early medieval round tower and high cross.
- 3 Castleblaney is by Lough Muckno, with coarse fishing.
- 4 Ballybay likewise has fishing lakes and wetlands.
- 5 Carrickmacross is best known for lace-making. Inishkeen nearby was the home of poet Patrick Kavanagh.
Drive southwest from Clones for one km on N54 and you leave the Republic of Ireland for County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland. Continue on A3 for a couple of miles (as things have become) and you re-enter the Republic. Three km later on N54 and you're back in Northern Ireland. Another two miles of A3 then you're on N54 in County Cavan in the Republic and no further nonsense. You have just crossed the border of the European Union four times. Welcome to the strange world of the 1 Drummully "Polyp", also dubbed Coleman's Island or Colooney salient.
Drummully is a pene-exclave of the Republic, cut off from it except for 110 m along the Finn River, with no bridge but its 100 or so residents could wade across. There is no road access except via Northern Ireland. Turn the tables and from the northern viewpoint Drummully is a pene-enclave, with arms of County Fermanagh either side. The eastern arm likewise ends in a pene-exclave, with two Fermanagh farms that can only be reached via the Republic or by fording the river.
Blame it if you will on those who convened at the Synod of Ráth Breasail in 1111 AD: amongst other reforms, they laid out parish boundaries that persist to this day. These later tallied with the boundaries of land-holdings and of counties. The shires or counties of Ulster only became a reality in the 17th century when the Tudors crushed the last of the Irish kingdoms, with Monaghan one of the nine counties of Ulster. There were all sorts of oddities along the boundaries: an 1836 Act of Parliament facilitated their adjustment, but it only applied to true exclaves, not pene-exclaves. Perhaps the legislators just forgot, or more likely didn't see a problem: it was only the county boundary after all, not an international frontier.
But then in 1921 that's exactly what it became, when Ireland was partitioned. Six counties of Ulster remained in the United Kingdom as part of Northern Ireland, while Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan were among the 26 that joined the south, variously styled the Dominion, Free State and eventually the Republic of Ireland. This blighted the entire area, not just the farmland pene-exclaves. Trade and transport were hamstrung on both sides. The main road, railway and canal all wandered back and forth across this new border, which was meant to be temporary until a Border Commission tidied up the anomalies. There were also Catholic communities just north and Protestant communities just south whose loyalties lay the other side. The Commission made some obvious proposals but it was politically sabotaged and its report suppressed, only leaking out in 1969, so no change was made.
For 50 years Monaghan and Fermanagh had a "hard" but friendly border, not routinely patrolled at the Drummully crossings. From 1970 the "Troubles" made the pene-exclaves dangerous, as neither side could effectively police them; even the air-space for helicopters was balkanised. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 defused tensions, and made movement across the border as trivial as crossing any inland county boundary. Both sides foresaw a brighter future. Then Britain left the European Union, while the Republic remained within it, and the ramifications of this are yet to be seen.
There are no railways in the county, but because it's historically part of Ulster, there are two transport corridors with regular buses. The north-south route is Dublin-Carrickmacross-Monaghan-Omagh-Strabane (for Derry) and Letterkenny. The east-west route is Cavan-Clones-Monaghan-Armagh-Belfast, with buses also to Coleraine, Ulster Univesity and Portrush. Other buses run from Drogheda and Dundalk.
By road from Dublin follow M1 or M2 to Ardee then N2 towards Monaghan. From Belfast follow M1 then A3 through Armagh and across the border.
The county is no longer connected to the Irish navigable waterway network, but work is under way to re-build the Ulster Canal. The first stage, re-connecting Clones, might open in 2024.
The main towns are connected by bus, but for outlying sights you need wheels. A bike would do in this small, lowland county, but a car gets you out of the rain.
- County Museum in Monaghan is a good introduction to the area's natural and human history.
- Literary history: the best known local bard was Patrick Kavanagh. The centre at Iniskeen near Carrickmacross depicts his life and works.
- Churches range from early Christian and Norman foundations (as at Clones) to modern places. The end of the Penal Laws against Catholics saw a 19th century wave of church-building, such as St Joseph's in Carrickmacross, with its fine stained-glass windows.
- Drumlins: the county is covered in these hillocks of gravel and rubble left behind by glaciers. They stretch in a broad belt from Clew Bay in County Mayo to Strangford Lough in County Down, and where they're flooded by sea or lake they form a scattering of islets. On land as in this county they form a "basket of eggs" rolling countryside.
- Ulster Canal courses east-west across the county, from the upper River Bann in County Tyrone through Monaghan and Clones to River Finn and Upper Lough Erne in County Cavan. It's long disused and is little more than an overgrown gully, with no footpath. It was built 1825-1842 and was 74 km long, but only 12 ft (3.7 m) wide so most freight barges couldn't use it. It lost money hand-over-fist and closed in 1931. In the late 20th century many derelict canals were restored for leisure use: reviving the Ulster Canal would mean a new construction as there'd be no point recreating the narrow original, but there was favourable precedent in the new Shannon-Erne Waterway, opened in 1994. In 2021 funding was secured to re-build the Ulster Canal's western section through Clones to Monaghan, opening perhaps in 2024.
- What's on? Listen to Northern Sound on 96.8 FM or read The Northern Standard published Thursday.
- Check your documents if it's at all likely that you'll cross the UK border, which along several roads you might do inadvertently. The border in 2021 remains unpatrolled but it's your responsibility to make sure your personal and car documents are in order.
- Gaelic games: Monaghan GAA play football at St Tiernach's Park in Clones. There are some 35 club GAA teams across the county.
- Golf: most towns are within a few km of a course.
- Festivals: see town pages for events.
- Al the towns have fast food places, but one enterprising fellow from Clones was a pioneer of slow food. Alexander Pearce devoured eight fellow-convicts while on the run in Tasmania.
- Plenty of pubs in all the towns, and these are often the best option for meals.
- There's a gin distillery at Derrylavan near Carrickmacross.
- Monaghan, Clones and Carrickmacross all have accommodation. But there's not much for campers or caravans: those flock to the "Costa Cavan" between Dundalk and Drogheda.
- Castle Leslie is the big splurge, near the border northeast of Monaghan.
Usual precautions about road safety and care of valuables. The county doesn't have the sort of wild uplands where weather is a hazard.
- South is County Meath, with the Boyne battlefield and Brú na Bóinne prehistoric complex near Drogheda. Loughcrew Cairns near Oldcastle is another remarkable prehistoric site.
- County Cavan west is a quiet place for fishing or boating. Continue west into the cloud-wreated scarps above Sligo.
- Armagh across the border northeast is the ecclesiastic capital of all Ireland.
- County Fermanagh northwest has navigable lakes and rivers overlooked by castles and stately mansions.