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Dublin: 20 °C Monday 1 June, 2020

'You're never alone here': How a small border town in Monaghan is thriving against the odds

Clones is nominated for the Bank of Ireland National Enterprise Town Awards.

“THE GREAT THING about Clones is the people,” says Seamie McMahon, Staff Officer at Monaghan County Council. 

The small Monaghan town began as a settlement developed around a monastery founded by St Tiarnach in the 6th century. Today, its population is 1,680 people strong, but its sense of history prevails. 

As you pass through you’ll see a motte and bailey, which was built in 1212AD, while there’s also an interactive heritage tour available whereby the use of QR codes gives visitors a detailed history of historic sites. This is just one of the projects carried out by Clones Town Team, which was set up in 2017.

“We developed a town plan and set out our objectives for the next two years, the Clones Town Plan 2018-2020,” explains McMahon, who says the team’s focus is “very much” on the town’s heritage. 

“Clones has been described as one of the most historic towns in Ireland, but yet people would think of Kilkenny and Glendalough rather than Clones. So it’s something that we really feel we need to tap into and is a major focus of the Town Team.” 

clones1 Source: Clones, Co Monaghan

Located less than 2km from the Monaghan-Fermanagh border, McMahon says: “People in Clones never gave up. Even in the face of Brexit, we’re refusing to give up. We’re very proud people.” 

This sense of pride is clear from the historic town’s nomination in the Bank of Ireland National Enterprise Town Awards this year. 

The National Enterprise Town Awards bring businesses and communities together, and give them the opportunity to showcase the spirit of enterprise in their local area – which Clones has no shortage of.

Entries are organised with the support of local authorities and Local Enterprise Offices across the country, enabling business and community leaders to come together, collaborate and take stock of what the area has achieved. For Clones, the list of its achievements runs long. 

This is a far cry from the early 20th century, when the Monaghan town’s all-important railway station was shut down. 

“We were one of five railway stations in the country that had a turntable, so it made us an extremely busy town,” says McMahon. “But partition took place in 1921 and caused some problems, and basically lead to the closure of the railway. But we still boomed in the 1950’s as a market town and that remained so until the 1970’s when the border roads were all shut and Clones was cut off from the hinterland.”

c3 St Tiarnach's Graveyard Source: Google Maps

“There were eight roads leaving Clones, with six going to Northern Ireland,” he recalls. “Five were blown up, and another was used as a major military checkpoint. That made what was once a three mile journey for someone, an 18 mile journey. People weren’t going to go to Clones to do the shop then.”

“It brought Clones to a very, very low place.”

Today, however, the area stands as a resilient town – with plans to continue growing. “Through Clones Town Team’s engagement with state agencies, we have sourced funding of approx €6.5million, which is quite an achievement for a small town,” says McMahon. 

Among plans for the future, funding has been secured for the building of 22 social units in derelict properties within the town, while there are also plans to turn the site of an old cinema into a business hub. “It’ll bring life to the local area,” he says. 

As for its nomination for the Rising Star Award in the Bank of Ireland National Enterprise Town Awards, McMahon says “the town itself is a rising star.”

“As they say, you’re never alone when you’re in Clones.” 

The Bank of Ireland National Enterprise Town Awards bring business and communities together, in each town, to showcase the spirit of enterprise in their local area. The competition is the Bank’s way of recognising the efforts being made by local people to promote and grow their towns and communities and to play its role as a business leader. 

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