Monaghan’s country roads

There’s only one thing worse than being late for a party, and that’s being early.

Arrive late and the party’s in full swing, arrive early and you’ll catch your hosts on the hop still trying to get themselves and everything else ready.

Arrive a full week early and… the Westenra Hotel on the Diamond in Monaghan town will look after you, find you a room at the inn, settle you down and point you in the direction of a good restaurant.

Like all good hosts, Sherry and Lam make room at the table at their Just In Asian Market restaurant on Market Street and introduce you to their friends.

They’ll be Nelius and his wife then, who are helping the owners’ son and heir Justin colour in his Power Rangers book.

I eat the same pancake, one of a number of exotic dishes in Lam’s €25 three-course meal which is a tour of the countries of the Far East, my favourite dish are tinged with lemongrass and coconut.

I’m no connoisseur but I’m purring at the end of it all when a panting Sherry arrives back from the neighbours to tell us they want to nip in for a drink or two for the road.

There’s the group photo first, of course, before Lam walks us over to Teach Aindi or Andy’s Bar and tells us he’ll be by later.

Half a dozen fancy gins – I’d especially recommend the Bathtub gin with blackberries – from suited and booted ginoisseur Kevin and I’m telling everyone that I love them and that they’re my family now.

Full of belly and dizzy of head the sensible thing then would have been to turn into our comfortable bed for the night but the strains of music entice u into the hotel bar.

Well, it is Bank Holiday Weekend and nobody’s working tomorrow, and as the band remind us ‘this is our land, this is your land.’

It’s time for me to find out more.

Country roads take me the next day to Glaslough, the home of the Leslie clan and the sumptuous Castle Leslie estate, much favoured by celebrities and where Paul McCartney and Heather Mills got married.

Today another couple are getting spliced -strangely they don’t want to rearrange their plans so we can get a new slot for our afternoon tea.

It gives us more time though to walk around the heritage village and learn about some of the colourful characters past and present, starting with the scion of the family Bartholomew who saved the life of a drowning Queen of Scots by throwing her his belt and telling her to ‘grip fast’ the buckle, the motto they hold on to to today.

Then there’s the doctor who had his leg buried in a new graveyard.

A handy app helps you navigate the village at your own pace – punctuate it with a pit stop at the Lord Ambledown cafe and artisan chocolate shop, Glaslough Chocolate Co. whose produce visitors to Castle Leslie will recognise from the treats on their bedside tables.

A word or two more here on country roads. These country roads don’t take me home., they take me around in circles…. and I’ve got a thirst on and an appointment with a craft beer and a small brewery in Inniskeen.

I’m almost tempted to get out and walk.

The Monaghan Way threads 56kms through these hills and roads from Clantibret, near Monaghan to, yes, you’ve guessed in, Inniskeen.

But I’m rambling – back to the story. So just when we were about to give up and head home… and by this point we were on mooing terms with the Monaghan cows… we fell upon the sign for Brehon Brewery.

Savouring our Ulster Black at the bar 15 minutes later and after the tour we learn that the lads from the next downland have been known to tinker with the signpost in turf war over the GAA.

I have one more for the road… I’m not driving and suddenly feel all poetic as you do.

I’m in grand company. Patrick Kavanagh is a son of this soil and rests for all time in it in St Mary’s graveyard next to the church he frequented which has now been turned into a commemorative centre.

Stepping stones on the plot lead up to a simple cross.

A real Ulster fry at the Western Arms Hotel

I reflect on his words from his poem Iniskeen Road: July Evening:

‘A road, a mile of kingdom.

I am king. Of Banks and stones and every blooming thing.

And now that we finally know where every blooming thing is we’ll get there quicker next time.

Now when is that again.

This article was first published in the Irish Daily Mail.

WHERE TO STAY: Westenra Hotel double room for the sample date of August 9 with B&B €130. Visit www.westenra.com.

Other websites: Visit www.monaghantourism.com. www.andysmonaghan.com. www.glasloughvillage.com. www.castleleslie.com. www.tasteofmonaghan.com/glaslough-chocolate-company. www.brehonbrewhouse.ie. www.patrickkavanaghcountry.com.

%d bloggers like this: