Mannan Castle required a lot of imagination. Perched on a hill above a golf course in Monaghan, it was nothing but a bunch of rocks, loosely scattered and smothered in vegetation, and some big ditches. More like Pan's Labyrinth than King Arthur. I half expected a stick insect to land on Clare and start making strange clicking sounds. Either that or a watery tart lobbing a scimitar at us from the "deep pool", the sight of which our guide tempted us with, but we never actually laid our eyes on. And me, I ripped my jeans on the barbed wire strategically placed at the entry gate. Yes, the golf course didn't seem too keen on welcoming visitors up here, but the 'clahs' (County Louth Archaeological And Historical Society) were a hardy bunch (of mainly pensioners) and we'd joined them on this Sunday afternoon of discovery around Carrickmacross.
Clare had tempted me earlier with "Do you want to go and see a workhouse?", to which I foolishly replied yes. Ooh, a spooky old workhouse... "Please Sir, can I have some more?..." and all that good old stuff. Little did I know that I would also have to: survey the stained glass windows at St. Josephs (2.30pm); check out the ruins of the local graveyard whilst listening to stories of haunting the local drunks (4.00pm); climb the hill to the forementioned Mannon Castle (5.30pm); then join the convoy of pensioners pulled up on the N2 as traffic raced past - but they had the sense to wait for someone to lead the way while Clare and I blasted ahead, and promptly got lost in Carrickmacross.
All the chocolate digestives had been snapped up when we finally made it to the workhouse around 7.30pm. The pensioners were already seated with their cups of tea while we watched a powerpoint presentation about the famine and all things history related. Of course the afternoon wasn't really supposed to go on this long, but the enthusiasm of this little historical society stretched things out rather. The workhouse wasn't at all spooky in the end, but rather a complete renovation job funded by the crossborder peace initiative. After the sobering stories of the famine and mass migration, Clare and I rushed back to The Lisdoo in Dundalk for some substenance in the form of beef & guinness pies, which they do rather nicely. Yes, things have certainly changed in Ireland.