Walk for the Weekend: Sliabh Beagh, Co Monaghan
Peace and tranquillity amid the meandering borderlands
Tra Walk is an ideal outing for those seeking a genuine away-from-it-all experience.
My offering this week comes from a place unique in Ireland.
Sliabh Beagh Hotel, Knockatallon, Co Monaghan, holds the distinction of being Ireland’s only community-owned hostelry. Located in the once turbulent border country, I have been invited to this well-appointed establishment by Monaghan Tourism to sample the Slieve Beagh uplands, which so far have, somehow, escaped my footfall.
Local man, Paddy Sherry, is my guide and soon we are ambling a quiet road before following the arrows for the Tra Walk along a wildflower embroidered lane.
Immediately, he proves a wellspring of knowledge not only on the local area but on the wider, geopolitical climate. He remembers the last time there was a hard border with Northern Ireland when the British Army mined roads leading from Monaghan.
“This caused great hardship for local people with farmers having to make long detours to reach land in Northern Ireland; people tried to fill them in but it really divided the community,”,’ says Sherry.
He is dismayed that Brexit could create another artificial boundary.
“Politicians have no idea how disastrous this would be for Monaghan,” he says.
We stop at a viewing point, where a great vista opens to the south. Such is the idiosyncratic nature of the border that when Sherry points to Slieve Gullion and Lough Erne, which lie within Northern Ireland, both are far to the south. Immediately, I am struck by the thought that, hereabouts, the Border seems drawn by an inky fly stumbling drunkenly across the map.
Onwards through open moorland past Three County Hollow: the intersection of Tyrone, Fermanagh and Monaghan. Here, Sherry opines that reintroducing a hard border would be impossible.
“It’s daft! That’s Fermanagh down there and there are 30 miles of mountains. There’s no problem for anyone to slip into the North. Politicians, when they visit, go to the main border crossings; they never come to places like this.”
Next stop is the high point of Knockanearla, where we pause. Here, amid the overwhelming stillness, Sherry tells me that he regards this as his psychiatrist’s chair – a place to escape when the cares of life seem overwhelming.
“Coming here over the years has kept me sane,” he volunteers.
Explaining the origin of the name Knockanearla, he informs me that it is derived from the fact that here the Ulster earls, O’Neill and O’Donnell, made camp on their ill-fated march to the Battle of Kinsale.
A little further on is the lonesome curl of Lough Antrawer, which furnishes water to the local community, but has been reduced by the dry summer to a shadow of its former self.
“I have never seen it so low,’’ comments Sherry.
Our final stop is beside a concrete slab, all that now remains of the former Rossmore family hunting lodge.
“The lodge came into use mainly during September. Lord Rossmore, his guests and servants would move here from Monaghan for the grouse season. Shooting was the main attraction but there was also much partying with the future King Edward V11 visiting on one occasion. Grouse were plentiful then, but now they are almost gone from these mountains,” laments Sherry.
Later over coffee in the Sliabh Beagh Hotel, I conclude that Tra is an ideal outing for those seeking a genuine away-from-it-all experience while observing at first-hand the futility of creating artificial borders where local communities don’t support them.
Trailhead: From Monaghan take the R186 and continue northwest through Ballinode and Scotstown. Go right at a sign for Sliabh Beagh Hotel.
Suitability: Waymarked route presenting few navigational difficulties or other hazards.
Time: 3 hours.
Map: Discovery Series, sheet 18