The Old Hard Road

From Ardee to Aughnacloy ... how the scene has changed in 50 years. Written by Seamus McCluskey.

The returned Bostonian was making his return journey northwards by Expressway, from Dublin back to his native Co Monaghan. He had taken a front seat in the bus so that he might be able to put chat on the driver, hopefully not disturbing him in his serious task of negotiating the two hour journey. A native of Ballybay, he would be going all the way to Aughnacloy as his daughter had married a South Tyrone man and he wanted so much to meet his grandchildren for the first time. It was 2002 and he had not visited his ‘home-patch’ for fifty years.

As he left Ardee he noticed a new sculpture to the left of the roadway and the bus driver informed him that it was a recent monument to the ‘Fallen Warrior’ in memory of Ferdia, who had been killed there by Cuchullain many centuries previously and who had given his name to the town, ‘Ath Fhirdia’ (Ardee). ‘A rather ugly looking monument’ he thought to himself ‘but then I was never one for that arty-farty stuff’. A round-about, and then a second round-about - these certainly weren’t there in 1952.
From Ardee to the Monaghan border ... it was almost a straight line, with wide road and plenty of room to overtake, and the bus driver was certainly making good time. In 1952 it was one of the worst roads in Ireland - twisted and narrow all the way. The Monaghan County Council, he hoped, would have done a good a job when he crossed the border into his native county as the Louth County Council had obviously done to the N2 north of Ardee. He would be disappointed, but not all the time.

At Acclinct Bridge he crossed the border into Monaghan and a thrill went right through his bones. Over to the left was a factory called Lissadell that manufactured towels - an encouraging start, he mused, and then a roadside sign which said ‘Welcome to Killanny’. He knew he was home. But the road suddenly deteriorated and from there to Carrickmacross it was one long series of twists and turns that must have been a nightmare for the driver, but then he did this trip every day so he would have been used to it.

Nearing Carrickmacross he looked over to the right and saw new buildings nestling among pleasant wood plantations and a lovely looking golf-course. The big sign said ‘Nurewood Hotel’. He had heard many reports of that one and had been told that it was one of the finest hotels in all Ireland. The Irish soccer team, he had also been told, usually spent a week of relaxation there before an important international fixture abroad. He would certainly visit it some day soon and taste its hospitality.

Carrickmacross and the ‘Capital of Farney’. Many a match he had played there against the Emmets in days gone by, but he wouldn’t look much of a specimen now if he tried to tog out at seventy-four years of age. The St. Louis Convent on the right, he couldn’t remember if that had been there before he left, but the small stone-cut building opposite, bearing the title ‘Gael Scoil’, and that certainly wasn’t there in 1952. Gael-Scoil, the driver told him, was where the pupils were taught everything through the medium of Irish, and Gaeilge was the daily language of the children. What a lovely idea, he thought, and what a wonderful way to help restore the native tongue. He hoped it was something that was widespread throughout Ireland. The driver told him that there were at least four Gael-Scoileanna in Co Monaghan.

What a mess of traffic there was in Carrickmacross. God be with the days when you could ride a bicycle up that main street, but now there were more direction signs, traffic lights, white lines and parking lots that he doubted if a bicycle could even get half-way up the same street. Yet, it was a far cry from the major traffic problems of Boston, and for that, he could assure the ‘home folk’ that they should be truly grateful.

Exiting Carrickmacross he saw Emmet Park down to his left off the Ballybay Road. That wasn’t where he had played as a Ballybay minor in 1945 when he won a Minor Co Championship medal with the mid-Monaghan club. That same medal had been his most treasured possession down through the years and he carried it with him everywhere he went. It was even now in his inside pocket and he turned it over gently, recalling those glory days. What a pity that he had to emigrate seven years later, when he was just 25 years of age, and would miss Ballybay’s great championship wins in 1953 and 1954. Clontibret was the ‘Big Name’ in senior football when he left and they had just won the third of their famous four in a row of Senior County Championships - the first time ever in Co Monaghan history.

The road to Castleblayney was brilliant ... straight and wide, and he was sorry that he had been so uncomplimentary to Monaghan Co. Council for the Acclinct to Carrick piece. Entering Castleblayney, he saw the new Castleblayney Faughs grounds to the right. They looked magnificent and he would love to have played there rather than on the old ground out the Dundalk Road. Castleblayney, he thought, looked real business like ... large-fronted shops and obviously plenty of money about the place. And then a fine looking hotel called ‘The Glencarn’ as he headed towards Monaghan. The road to the left swung towards his native Ballybay and he would get there some time during this vacation, but not on this first journey northwards on the Letterkenny Express.

More twists and bends as far as Annyalla, and then straight ahead on a really fine piece of roadway. Passing through Clontibret he saw the old field over to the right, beside the parochial house. It was now no longer a football pitch but he had played both in minor and senior grades there before he left in 1952, but Clontibret had been a hard nut to crack, and men like Big John Murray, John Rice, Joe Smith and the rest of them were footballers apart. What a pity Monaghan could not have had more like them and an All-Ireland or two must surely have come our way. Opposite the church was the sign-post pointing to “Clontibret O’Neill’s GAA Park”. He had heard a lot about it and he might get to a game there before returning to the USA.

Another stretch of lovely roadway into Monaghan town. Over there to the right was the old Gavan Duffy Park where he had played in a Brennan Cup game against Emyvale - he couldn’t remember who won but there was a right ould shemozzle after it and the county chairman, Big Jim Cahill, had suspended four of them ... two from each side ... for two months apiece. Wouldn’t he just love to meet the McKenna fella he had the dust-up with and they could enjoy a pint together and recall the old days when football was football.

Monaghan town was a different place entirely. New shopping centres where Patton’s Timber Yard used to be, a new road over towards Convent, traffic lights, one-way signs, etc., etc. “They’re catching up on America,” he mused. Into the Bus Station and a rest for ten minutes or so. This used to be the GNR Railway Station and it was here that he had taken the train to Belfast on the first leg of his emigrant journey exactly fifty years ago. The smell of steam and smoke even returned to his nostrils as he could see the train from Clones pulling in at the far platform which now doesn’t even exist. There’s a Furniture Factory over there now and smells of a different kind.

The Bus Inspector puts chat on him and he learns that his name is Paddy Gollogly, that he had a son playing for the Monaghan Under-21s and that he is a very much involved with the Corduff club that took Junior Championship honours this year. ‘A man after my own heart,’ he thought. Snack and chat over, he re-boards the bus on the last leg of his journey. The road to Emyvale is still twisted, but much wider. Just before he crossed the bridge into Emyvale he could see the old pitch over to the right ... referee Jack ‘Rock’ Treanor from the Monaghan Harps club had once ‘lined’ both himself and an Emyvale fella, also called Treanor, for a bit of an argument they had had in a game there, but they became great friends afterwards. Treanor had also emigrated to America about the same time as himself but he had lost contact.

Emyvale had a new pitch out the Glaslough Road, the driver told him. Wasn’t it wonderful to see all these club teams with new pitches ... before he had left there were very few grounds owned by the clubs, while Ballybay and Clones were the only two ‘county grounds’ in the county. Ballybay’s Pearse Park had opened in April 1951 ... just eleven months before he had emigrated. Further down the road was the Truagh Gaels St Mellan’s Park, yet another excellent show-piece for a Co. Monaghan rural club. Truagh Gaels weren’t even in existence when he had left. From there it was yet another straight run down the N2, across a brand new bridge at Moybridge; not a customs-man to be seen anywhere, and then into Aughnacloy where his daughter would await him.

A delightful trip the full length of his native Co Monaghan from Acclinct Bridge to Moybridge. How that great little county had changed, but changed for the better and ‘Well Done’ to them all for so doing.

Taken from Monaghan's Match
December 2002