“Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches,
And charging along like troops in a battle
All through the meadows the horses and cattle....”
This might well be the theme-song of the organisers when they bring their singing wheels to The National Senior Cycling Road Race Championships to be held in North Monaghan in June 2011. Nestled just a mile or two from the main Dublin-Derry road (N2) lies the parish of Tydavnet, the location of the twenty-five-kilometre circuit chosen for the event. The four parish villages are Ballinode, Scotstown, Knockatallon and Tydavnet. The parish has ever been associated with progress, being one of the first to adopt the Parish Plan, the brain-child of Minister for Agriculture, James Dillon, in 1955-1956. In the intervening years its sons and daughters have established themselves in many fields. One thinks of Eamonn Murray, first National President of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann(1952-1956) and, more recently, Sean Mc Cague, President of the Gaelic Athletic Association(2000-2003) and Paraic Duffy its current Director-General. Both are members of the Scotstown GAA Club.
Sliabh Beagh-Backdrop to the Circuit
Sliabh Beagh in the parish of Tydavnet is a vast region of upland moors, rising to a height of 1200 feet above sea-level and straddling the border-lands of counties Monaghan, Tyrone and Fermanagh. Legend would have us understand that Bith, after whom the mountain is named, came here forty years before The Great Flood of Noah’s time. His resting-place is fittingly called Carnmore, which is the highest point in his mountain- Sliabh Beagh. Carnmore is a relatively short distance from Cooneen, the location of the Cooneen Ghost which was one of the world’s most famous poltergeists, causing great hardship to a local family in 1913. Many visitors still call to the ghost-house-in daylight hours!
Sliabh Beagh, of course, is the favoured terrain of the Knockatallon Ramblers Walking Club, who use the Sliabh Beagh Tourist Centre (www.knockatallon.com) as their assembly point. A larger than usual crowd of walkers (four hundred in fact!) had the company of R.T.É. personality John Murray, on the 7th May, for a two-and-half hour hike when they enjoyed spectacular views of the Cuilcagh Mts( Cavan-Fermanagh),the Sperrin Mts( Tyrone-Derry), Slemish Mt( Antrim), Slieve Gullion( Armagh), the Cooley Mts( Louth) and the Mourne Mts (Down) before being regaled with stories and laughter at The –Three-County-Hollow by the famous Monaghan twins Tommy and John Mc Ardle. On another day they could have met the Canadian ambassador to Ireland (North Monaghan has a special relationship with Prince Edward Island) or visitors from Geel in Belgium. Geel, which is twinned with Tydavnet through the Saint Dympna (Naomh Damhnait) association, is the 30,000 population- centre with its world-renowned hospitals for the mentally ill. One such hospital in Monaghan Town is appropriately named Saint Davnet’s. Incidentally the Sliabh Beagh Tourism Centre enjoyed a visit from the American ambassador Jean Kennedy-Smith in 1998 and was officially opened by An Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, in November 2001.
A Sporting-Loving Community
The parish of Tydavnet, particularly in recent years, is synonymous with sporting activity. The hunting of the hare (the tops of drumlins being ideal vantage points from which to view the chase) has been with us for generations and in 1992 the finals of The Irish Draghunt Championships were held on Sliabh Beagh. The sporting profile of the parish, indeed, was very high in the eighties with the county senior football team, managed by Sean McCague and backboned by Scotstown players, coming within a whisker of winning the famed trophy, the Sam Maguire Cup, for the All-Ireland Championship. The village of Scotstown was en fete on Sunday the 19th August 1984 when Olympic silver medallist John Treacy (now chief executive of the Irish Sports Council and married to local girl Fionnuala Moyna) was greeted by thousands of well-wishers from Monaghan and adjacent counties. Equally enthusiastic were the crowds who met the Killylough Tug-o’-War Team (Tydavnet) on their arrival home from the Netherlands in 1986 as World Champions. And for good measure they had beaten ” the ould enemy,” an English team, in the final after holding the strain for sixteen minutes. For many years Scotstown businessman Michael Owen McMahon was Clerk of the Course for the Monaghan Stages Rally of the Dunlop National Championship. And weren’t Ballinode-man Niall Maguire and his co-driver, Scotstown’s Enda Sherry, multiple champions in that sport! Their successes, of course, were a great advertisement for the local Rally School Ireland (www.rallyschoolireland.ie ) which is but a mile from Scotstown village.
A Sense of History
To the passer-by or speeding cyclist much of the course for the National Senior Cycling Road-Race Championships, to be held in the Emyvale-Tydavnet locality on the weekend of the 25th -26th June 2011, is typical of drumlin country-winding roads and challenging hills, but otherwise nondescript. However, those with time on their hands and a few days to spare would discover a community rich in folklore, history and a love of sport and the outdoor life. Two miles into the race circuit one reaches the townland of Sheskin which features a recently-erected Great Famine commemoration stone recalling the devastation of Black ‘47. From it we learn that the first verifiable witness of potato blight in County Monaghan was by a local woman, Annie Murphy, and the road into the townland was subsequently called The Black Hill. This area is frequently visited by the Ó h-Ailpín brothers of Cork GAA fame whose grandfather, Jimmy Halpenny, played football for the local Scotstown team in the thirties. John Treacy, Olympic silver medallist, is no stranger to these roads as he traversed them in preparation for his great marathon run in Los Angeles in ’84. Sport of a different kind would have been on the mind of the 18th century rapparee and horse-thief Shane Bearna, who led the Red-coats a merry dance on Sliabh Beagh and whose hiding-place on the mountain-the Shane Bearna Stables-is a favourite destination for one of the Knockatallon walks.
Between Tydavnet and Scotstown is the very popular Mullaghmore Equestrian Centre (email@example.com ) which has kindly agreed to suspend its activities for the race weekend, while outside Ballinode we have the Monaghan Rugby Club grounds where Emyvale native, the great Tommy Bowe of Ireland and British Lions fame, first learned the rudiments of the game of rugby. Between Ballinode and Scotstown (less than two miles apart) and having passed the biggest (steel) football in Ireland you are within a quarter- mile of County Monaghan’s most favourite outdoor swimming facility-Hollywood Lake, in Hollywood Park. Jointly maintained by Monaghan County Council and the local Hollywood Committee, this outstanding recreation amenity features a 7th century crannóg, which was the ancestral dwelling of a branch of the McMahon clan. In summer Hollywood is a favourite haunt of family groups, while the more active can indulge their penchant for life-saving courses, boating and other aquatic sports. This excellent amenity is well sign-posted.
For Patsy Brady, President of Emyvale Cycling Club and race director for the weekend, the hosting of the National Cycling Road-Racing Championships, in his native North Monaghan, is the culmination of a life-long ambition. Ever a cycling enthusiast, it was but natural that his family would be influenced by his zeal. His son Paul, a member of the Emyvale Cycling Club, won several under-age national titles and represented Ireland at the World Junior Championships in Canada in 2003. As president, Patsy is very conscious of the great honour bestowed on the Emyvale Cycling Club with the hosting of this event. Like all great sporting occasions, it requires financing and the four-day event of 23rd -26th June is blessed with very generous financial sponsorship from Town of Monaghan Co-op Society Ltd (under their brand name Champion Milk). Town of Monaghan, on the N2 Dublin-Derry road, has a long association with sponsorship of sport since the days of world boxing champion Barry McGuigan and the Jack Charlton World Cup campaigns. Their ongoing support of community events, such as parish agricultural shows and community games, is the hallmark of their generosity and their assistance is greatly appreciated. In welcoming the cycling fraternity to North Monaghan, Patsy Brady wishes everybody-visitors and locals –a most enjoyable week-end and takes this opportunity to thank all who made this dream a reality. He would like, particularly, to thank, at national level, the Board of Cycling Ireland and the members of the Road Commission for their assistance, while locally great gratitude is due to the Gardaí Síochána, the clergy of the local churches, the elected councillors of the area and the Road-Section of Monaghan County Council for their co-operation in the preparation of this event.