SEDUCED by its serene beauty and “splendid isolation”, Paul McCartney showed he actually was still capable of impeccable taste when he chose the Monaghan countryside as the “secret” location for his wedding to Heather Mills.
And yet, 14 years on from Castle Leslie owner Sir Jack Leslie famously letting slip to the world’s press that the wedding “is on Tuesday, but it’s a secret”, Monaghan is still one of Ireland’s least known destinations.
But that’s beginning to change as more and more Dubliners take the short drive north to the Land of Little Hills.
Just an hour from Dublin, Muckno Lodge is a stunning home from home in the rolling hills along the Monaghan border with South Armagh.
Nestled between its own private fishing lake, Lough Muckno and Concra Wood, the lodge is the perfect place to get away from it all. It’s the ideal destination for an intimate New Years gathering, a lads’ fishing trip or in our case, the perfect family weekend away.
The renovated traditional stone cottage is a fine example of old and new in perfect union (no offence to Macca) and this place is deceptively large – sleeping up to 10 comfortably.
The lodge boasts all the usual mod cons, including free wifi and a fully equiped modren kitchen that would make Nevin Maguire jealous.
There’s even a games room with an air hockey table that doubles up as a pool table, so the kids will never have a dull moment.
Speaking of tables – the busy market towns of Castleblayney and Carrickmacross, with their numerous wecloming pubs and restaurants are just a short drive from Muckno.
Free walking tours of Carrickmacross, known locally as Carrick, can be arranged by contacting the local Chamber of Commerce, and Jo, our guide, was as charming as he was informative as he took the family on a wondefully interesting tour of the old lace town.
A relaxing evening in front of the fire back at the Lodge was the perfect end to a great day exploring Carrick and the wonderful unspoiled countryside made famous by Monaghan’s favourite son, poet Patrick Kavanagh.
The following morning, after a refreshing stroll down to the lake with the kids, we took the short trip north, passing Glaslough and Castle Leslie and on to the beautiful old mill village of Mullen, home to Busy Bee Ceramics.
If you’ve never had a go on a pottery wheel, this is the place to give it a try. Put quite simply, it’s great fun!
Master potter Brenda McGinn has the patience of a saint, and she has a way of bringing out the creative side in anyone – even this reporter.
As Brenda explains: “We are all creators at heart – its just we rarely get the chance to be creative, and that’s where I come in.”
The kids had a great time pottering about (sorry) and even mum and dad got to have a turn, though you’ll be glad to hear it was nothing like that scene from Ghost.
As well as produce beautiful, handcrafted pieces, Busy Bee Ceramics do hen parties, family days, birthday parties, and more, and the experience is both novel and fun.
Brenda’s own original designs derive from a combination of Irish landscape and symbolism of ancient sacred tradition present all over the celtic realm.
Each Busy Bee Ceramics piece tells a story. Brenda spent a decade living in Killarney where the red deer of the National Park inspired her work.
Having returned to the “stony grey soil” of her native Monaghan, she is now looking to the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh and the region’s drumlins to inspire her new work.
Each piece is made by hand, either on a potter’s wheel or using a rolling pin.
Where to stay
The plush four-star Muckno Lodge (mucknolodge.ie) has two self-catering units available: the large 5-bedroom cottage (sleeps up to 10), from €390 per party for two nights; and a one-bedroom apartment next door that sleeps up to 3 from €150 for two nights. Weekly rates are also available.
If self catering isn’t your thing, the Nuremore Hotel (nuremore.com) in Carrick has two-night midweek breaks from €130pp (B&B plus one evening meal).
Carrickmacross Chamber offers free heritage walking tours of the town, taking place every Saturday at 11am. Email [email protected] for more details.
Busy Bee Ceramics (busybeeceramics.ie) organises pottery making and painting for individuals and groups. Open 2-6pm Saturdays and 10am-5pm Wednesday to Friday.
Private bookings (groups of 10 or more) can be organised out of hours.