A hidden gem that has plenty to see and do

by Ian Begley

MONAGHAN is one of those places in Ireland that I’ve only ever been to upon passing while travelling to the North.
My knowledge of the county was fairly limited, but when the prospect of spending a weekend there came up, I was all too eager to pack my bags and leave the big smoke.
I was surprised that the journey from Dublin to Carrickmacross only took an hour (thank you M1) and even more surprised that the forecast for the weekend promised to be 20+ degrees throughout.
Once my guest and I arrived, we checked our bags in at The Shirley Arms, a hotel bang in the middle of the town.
Our room was pretty standard as far as four star hotels go with no frills to brag about, but it did the job in terms of cleanliness and comfort.
Eager to do some exploring in the summer sun, we invited ourselves to join the Carrickmacross heritage walking tour – a 1.5 hour walk around the town to see its many interesting sights and landmarks.
The highlight of the tour for me was visiting the old workhouse, a building that once housed the desperately poor during the famine and beyond.
The top floor where the children slept was particularly eerie because from the windows you could see several white crosses in a nearby field, which was the site of frequent mass burials.
Next on the itinerary was a trip to the Patrick Kavanagh visitor centre in Inniskeen.
The visitor centre is set in an old church in the centre of the village, which is also the location of Kavanagh’s grave.
Our well-informed tour guides Rosaleen Kearney and Art Agnew talked very passionately about Kavanagh’s life and brought us to his old home, his school and several other spots which inspired his poetry.
Learning all about Patrick Kavanagh certainly gave us a tremendous thirst so afterwards we headed straight to a nearby brewery to learn all about – and to sample – the local brew from Brehon Brewhouse.
The small brewery is housed on Seamus McMahon’s dairy farm, which he set up in 2014.
The finished product of their ingenious endeavour includes some wonderfully crafted beers, such as: Brehon Blonde, Ulster Black (my favourite), Stoney Grey IPA, Killanny Red, Summer Ale and Shanco Dubh Porter.
I was a lot more interested in this tour than I previously imagined I’d be and would definitely recommend it to any craft beer enthusiasts who find themselves in Monaghan.
We then headed off to the Nuremore Hotel & Country Golf Club to have a well-earned relaxing dinner.
To start I had the duck confit croquette, alongside a ginger bread puree, carrot and quail egg.
I have to stop myself from salivating on my keyboard thinking of how delicious this course was, which I would definitely rank a full ten out of ten.
For my main, I had a very tender cut of pork (assiette of ardee pig, celeriac, baby turnips and pork roasting juices), which I thought went extremely well with a glass of Merlot.
The restaurant’s chef very kindly prepared a beautifully cooked mackerel for us, which was caught locally and delicately garnered with caviar.
The fish melted the moment it hit my pallet and after convincing myself that I could not eat another bite the dessert menu was landed in front of me.
I ordered the chocolate and raspberry puree and raspberry sorbet and inhaled it before the waiter returned with coffee.
As the clock struck ten we headed to the hotel’s Ivy Bar to have a few sensible drinks and to bring the day to a close. Tourists and locals came to the bar in their droves to enjoy the live music and make the most of their Saturday night.
Getting up the following morning wasn’t difficult at all as I was very excited to get on with the final activity in my itinerary and to dust away the cobwebs at Irish Country Quads, situated in Carrickakelly.
Before pushing the all-terrain vehicles to their absolute limits, my guest and I were given a crash course in how to ride them, along with all the safety requirements we needed to know.
The moment I put my quad into motion I knew immediately that this was the highlight of my Monaghan excursion. We rode our bikes through some highly skilled, purpose built obstacle courses, which included an underground tunnel, overhead bridges, a river, muddy ditches and a large competitive speed course where you are left to your ATV.
Shooting
Afterwards we tried our luck at the clay pigeon shooting range.
Next up was the indoor air rifle shooting challenge which was a great chance for me to redeem my honour. The range involves a target shoot, clay shoot and a bell shooting challenge.
For the purpose of this review I will say that I hit more targets than my guest, but please don’t make any enquiries.
Overall, I had a very nice weekend in Monaghan.
The county is a hidden gem that always has a lot going on and is a perfect place to escape for anyone celebrating a birthday, stag or hen party, or just in need for a relaxing weekend break away.
Weekend rates for a double room at the Shirley Arms Hotel (shirleyarmshotel.ie) start from €130 per night.
The Restaurant at the Nuremore Hotel (nuremore.com) is open to non-residents, 6.30-9.30pm Mon-Sat and 6.30-8.45pm Sun (6.30-9.30pm bank holiday Sundays).
The Patrick Kavanagh Centre in Inniskeen is open 11am-4.30pm, Tuesday to Friday and additionally 3-5.30pm on Sundays, June-September.
There’s a self-guided tour (maps available) or you can just call prior to arrange a local guide on 042 937 8560.

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