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Walk Sliabh Beagh – an off-radar hike from Ireland's only community-run hotel

Pól Ó Conghaile


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Photo: Monaghan Tourism

Photo: Monaghan Tourism

The Slieve Beagh Hotel

The Slieve Beagh Hotel

Martin Connolly and Donna McCarra walking in the mist on Slieve Beagh. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

Martin Connolly and Donna McCarra walking in the mist on Slieve Beagh. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

Photo: Slieve Beagh Adventures

Photo: Slieve Beagh Adventures

A bedroom at the Slieve Beagh Hotel

A bedroom at the Slieve Beagh Hotel

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Photo: Monaghan Tourism

“Every time you come out, the mountain has changed,” said Martin Connolly.

I was hiking on Sliabh Beagh with Martin and Donna McCarra, local guides with Sliabh Beagh Adventures. A day earlier, views from the mountain stretched over several counties. Now, it was moody. A grey veil of mist gathered around us; boggy ground slopped and plopped and squelched underfoot.

And I was loving it. Before visiting, I’d struggled to place Sliabh Beagh, a 380m hill near Knockatallon in north Co Monaghan, on the map. As we hiked its trails, however, this expanse of blanket bog began to impress its identity.

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Martin Connolly and Donna McCarra walking in the mist on Slieve Beagh. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

Martin Connolly and Donna McCarra walking in the mist on Slieve Beagh. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

Martin Connolly and Donna McCarra walking in the mist on Slieve Beagh. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

“We’re in Fermanagh now,” Donna said, at one stage. “We’re county-hopping. You’d cross over and back a lot and probably wouldn’t even notice.”

I wondered what it was like to grow up near the border. They showed me sections of boreen that had been blown up during the Troubles, and an old customs post swallowed up by the forest.

I stayed at the Sliabh Beagh Hotel. It’s basic, with 14 rooms, a bar, events hall and restaurant. But it has a story.

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Before it opened in 2000, the parish found itself isolated, in decline, with its young people trickling away. The voluntary local development group came up with the idea of a community-run hotel, and fundraised to create a social enterprise hub that could employ locals and provide a venue for everything from weddings to discos, meetings and subsidised Sunday meals for older people. It also offered visitors somewhere to stay.

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The Slieve Beagh Hotel

The Slieve Beagh Hotel

The Slieve Beagh Hotel

“At first, it seems a long way from Monaghan,” as the local staff member serving me breakfast said. “But you get used to it. I stayed.”

The hotel has been a catalyst. Access to the area has been improved, profits reinvested, dereliction and the exodus of young local families stemmed.

Covid is a challenge, but perhaps an opportunity too — these days, sustainability, slow travel and community tourism are turning from tokenism into global trends. “We need to create tourism without destroying the landscape,” as Donna put it.

Sliabh Beagh Adventures opened in April. Managed by Fiona Connolly, it’s based in a building that was once her grandparents’ village shop, but had lain idle for 15 years. Visitor numbers are small, but she hopes to grow them with activity and accommodation packages among other ideas suited to the community and its wilderness.

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Photo: Slieve Beagh Adventures

Photo: Slieve Beagh Adventures

Photo: Slieve Beagh Adventures

“You’ll not find any peace and tranquillity like it,” she told me.

By the time I got down from the mountain, it had changed again. The mist was gone; blue skies were opening up. The signal had returned to my phone, and I said goodbye, driving back on to the radar.

Pól was a guest of sliabhbeaghhotel.ie (B&B from €40p). See also sliabhbeaghadventures.ie and monaghantourism.com.



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