This post was written by Martin Connolly
“Monaghan is a funny place. However, it’s not until you’re out foreign and somebody asks you where you are from that you fully appreciate it. Trying to explain Monaghan to people not from there is a bit of a face melter, and what you dream up as you start thinking could surprise you.
Historically, we were the defenders of Ulster, manning the Black Pigs Dyke to keep out the muck savages of Cavan and Leinster. From the 15th to 17th centuries the McMahon and McKenna armies were a constant thorn in the side of the English, whose territory ‘The Pale’, touched the southern end of the present county. Cúchullan died here. Monaghan is where James Connolly’s roots and descendants are, and it is where Arthur Griffith lived. There is a curse on Monaghan people to not be appreciated. Patrick Kavanagh was considered a tramp until after he died. James Connolly was vilified until his execution. Our wins are brushed off as the immoral wages of puke football.
While we have lovely forests and lakes, Monaghan is famed for its drumlins. An English surveyor in the 17th century believed the reason why Monaghan people were so famously difficult, was because these little hills prevented one community from seeing the other, which bred a mistrust of outsiders over generations. In 1919 the first self-consciously proclaimed Communist in the United Kingdom was established at Monaghan Lunatic Asylum. In 1921, the IRA were in an uneasy truce with British troops. In Monaghan two rival police forces (the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Irish Republican Police) competed to impose their own order. For instance, the Republican Police arrested several youths for drunkenness at Carrickmacross fair, only for the RIC to arrest the IRP officers for false imprisonment. At a fair at Clones both RIC and IRP investigated a stolen horse. In the event, the IRP retrieved the horse, while the RIC arrested the alleged thief. There’s no denying the nervous liveliness about the place.
If you lived in the strip of Ireland from Dundalk to Leitrim in late 1921, there was much to be worried about. It was a period of interregnum and pending a political settlement that was being negotiated in London. As of 1920 the British government had drawn a new border along these counties, creating a new frontier between the territories it called Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland. Eventually it was decided that west Donegal, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth had too many nationalists; and would prove too unruly. These counties were allocated to Southern Ireland while the rest remained in the Empire.
Partition turned Monaghan into a peninsula, cut off from its hinterland on three sides, and it’s isolation led to its demise. Partition turned the boundaries with Fermanagh, Tyrone and Armagh into an international frontier, after which trains, buses, trucks and barges travelling these routes were routinely delayed by customs inspections, identity checks and military checkpoints. Until the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the 14 mile journey from Clones to Cavan meant crossing the border four times. As a result of this inconvenience, the Ulster Railway and Ulster Canal were abandoned after partition, leading to the immediate death of Monaghan industry. It’s worth noting that should the United Kingdom leave the European Union, the border with the Republic would have to be reinstated to stem the free flow of EU citizens and goods to the UK…
Monaghan is Ireland’s 28th largest county, and Ireland’s 29th most populated county. It is no longer an industrial hub at the crossroads between Belfast, Dublin, Letterkenny and Galway. While the population of Ireland increased from 2.9 million in 1926 to 4.5 million today, the number of people alive in Monaghan decreased from 65,000 to 60,000 in this same period. The North’s stranglehold on Monaghan and our small voice meant we were never included in the Irish government’s national development strategies. Neither the North or the South accommodated Monaghan’s awkwardness. A trivial inconvenience like data roaming is a nightmare in Monaghan where it is impossible to get network coverage anywhere in your village, and a four minute call eats €10 credit.
On a more serious note; our hospital was closed down in 2008, in 2013 our rural Gardaí stations were shut and until 2005 our roads were a disgrace (although they need looking after again). The Border region has the lowest disposable income in the country; Monaghan’s €17,121 per person is well below the national average of €19,701 per person. The rate of national unemployment is 9.9%, while 16.5% of the Monaghan workforce is the claiming the dole. I read the other day that 66% of Monaghan students are in receipt of a grant (compared with 35% of Dublin students) but were only half as likely to attend a university.
Last month Garda Golden was shot dead while responding to a domestic violence incident in Louth. Yes this was the work of a sick mind, but the closure of our rural stations has seen a boom in all sorts of crime here as police were withdrawn in large numbers from both sides of the border. We have cattle raids and bank robberies, we have diesel laundering and murders now. The elderly are being targeted by gangs of thieves and sure even Nidge was scared shitless in an appearance here.
Since 2011, the number of Gardaí in Ireland has decreased by 1,066 leaving the current strength of the force under 13,000. The border region has seen the greatest reduction in Gardaí numbers with a 27.5% decrease in Monaghan and a 14% decrease in Louth (compared with 7% nationally). The border region once had 38 operational stations along its hundred mile length but this has been reduced to four ‘full-time’ stations in Derry, Enniskillen, Monaghan and Dundalk.
In response to Garda Golden’s killing (not forgetting the unsolved murder of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe three years previously and the unsolved stabbing to death of Dundalk taxi man Martin Mulligan in September), 25 gardai and two sergeants are now being sent to the district. 16 of the officers being re-deployed to Dundalk are being sent from the neighbouring Cavan/Monaghan Division, where manpower levels there are already down.
Garda Golden was shot dead as he went to the aid of a woman who was the victim of domestic violence. I remember a Dundalk friend of mine sharing a petition in an attempt to prevent the Women’s Aid shelter located in his town from closing. However the centre, which offers support to women and children experiencing domestic violence, couldn’t accommodate 293 requests for refuge in 2013. The centre closed down in June 2014 due to a 75% reduction in government funding. This shelter in Dundalk was the closest centre for Cavan and Monaghan domestic violence victims to turn to in times of crisis. The Louth, Cavan and Monaghan region is currently operating 57% below the Council of Europe’s recommended level of refuge provision.
Ah yeah it’s a very grim picture of my home I’m painting. It always seemed to be a great place to be from and not somewhere you wanted to end up. Monaghan is the Wild West, it’s a close-knit bandit country. The people of Monaghan are lovely and despite the inter-village rivalry, we care deeply about each other. Hundreds will come to your wedding and thousands to your funeral. Speaking of which, there was a 44% decrease in the number of road fatalities nationally between 2007-2013, Monaghan and Kildare were the only counties where road deaths actually increased in that period.
Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of significant sources of stress, and the people of Monaghan are no strangers to adversity. All we hear on the news is of economic failure that is somehow our fault and that we must be punished for, yet we never heard the Celtic Tiger’s roar. A €2.2 billion government programme was launched in 2012 to fund 275 new major school building projects in the period 2012-2016. Monaghan was not included on this list and only two Monaghan schools have been granted development funding in the past 15 years. Schools in Monaghan are funded by local fundraisers and private benefactors, while the contractors employed are usually former students of the area. Another example of the government’s apathy towards us is our lack of dedicated Fire Brigade. Monaghan Fire Brigade is a retained service which means that volunteers respond to an emergency call. Our firefighters serve rural areas and must live and work within a 5 minute radius of their local station.
After the linen and furniture manufacturing industries died out with partition, the people of Monaghan had to be resourceful as our stony wet soil is notoriously unsuitable for agriculture. Since the 1960’s, Monaghan has been meeting Ireland’s poultry and egg demands, and in the 1980’s Monaghan Mushrooms became one of the largest suppliers of mushrooms in the world. Other European niches have been filled since by unorthodox Monaghan businesses such as Kingspan (timber framed houses) and Combilift (fork lifts).
Our alternative outlook on life manifests itself in other ways too, just look at the surrealist black comedy work of Pat McCabe, one of Ireland’s most successful contemporary writers and co-founder of Ireland’s best loved festival (Flat Lake Literary Arts Festival). Bog snorkelling is the national sport of Doohamlet – it is rumoured that it was birthed by “the lads” having great fun trying to locate an arms dump. We have the Rally School of Ireland in Scotstown where getaway drivers can be certified to prove their skills on the back roads of Ulster. Don’t forget that Monaghan is the home of Irish country music, hosting both the Country Music Festival and the Harvest Time Blues Festival. Big Tom and Marty Mone are among Monaghan’s more popular acts, while line dancing and jiving keep our cowboys happy. Our economic salvation lies in a possible goldmine in the hills of Clontibret, it lies there because all it will ever be is an empty promise to keep us going.
However, just because we are used to fending for ourselves doesn’t mean we should. I’m fed up of Monaghan being overlooked and ignored. Canvassing for the general election has already begun and I would urge each and every person in Monaghan to fully participate.
Should a candidate knock on your door please invite them inside. Serve them Aldi’s tea with Bourbon biscuits. Let them sit on the sofa beside your laundry in a room where you stare at the walls wondering where the fuck your life went wrong.
Tell them about working for minimum wage (€18,000 a year) or life on the dole (€7,800 a year). Talk about your inability to afford public transport or heating oil. Tell them that you have a degree that you spent 4 years working towards and yet you lack the “3 years necessary experience” you need to get even an interview for JobsBridge. Tell them that your rent is going up and yet NAMA has barricaded up an apartment complex in your town. Tell them that you’re waiting 11 months to get your back looked at and that you have to smoke a joint to sleep at night because you can’t afford the prescription. Tell them that your best friend is in a grave and your sister is in Australia.
Ask them questions too. Ask how much money they will earn (an average of €138,000 in salary and expenses in 2015), ask what they have done for you personally and ask them to prove their accountability. Ask for their views on abortions, Irish Water, fracking, legalising cannabis or whatever your concerns are. Ask them why they let your local Garda station close. And your Post Office. Ask them why your nearest hospital is 92km away.
They will probably refuse as they are too busy for such a céilí. Should they accept your invitation, just observe how uncomfortable they get. We are seen as a commodity, a resource only for the benefit of an economy. These people will only show up in your area once every 4 years to prostitute themselves on your doorstep, making promises they have no intention of fulfilling and begging you to remember how nice they were when they did show up. It is a one sided relationship with only one winner.
Do not feel ashamed. This is your life, this is you doing the best you can with what you have. Feel angry. Fuck them! If our five TD’s worked for minimum wage the surplus of their salary would reopen Monaghan hospital. Find your pride and demand better. Politicians are so far removed from the layperson, they need the reminder of what an Irish life is. Remember that you have all the power, they are public servants and you are interviewing them to determine their suitability for the role.
Anyways, that’s beside the point. I don’t expect anybody to read all this and fair play if you did. The gist of my story is that I went to France and I met a Dublin fella working in a bar. I don’t know if he was trying to be a smart arse in front of my French friends but he said he never heard of Monaghan.
Well f*ck you too Simon from Cabinteely. If impersonating Conor McGregor, pouring shite pints and retelling Love/Hate storylines is the only culture you have, I feel sorry for ya.
Je suis Monaghan and I’m proud of it.