Introducing Clones & Around
Once the site of an important 6th-century monastery that later became an Augustinian abbey, Clones' main sights are ecclesiastical. There's a well-preserved 10th-century high cross on the Diamond, decorated with drama-charged biblical stories such as Daniel in the lion's den.
Along with the remains of the abbey founded by St Tiernach on Abbey St, there's a truncated 22m-high round tower, which dates from the early 9th century, in the cemetery south of town. Nearby is the supposed burial place of Tiernach himself, a chunky 9th-century sarcophagus with worn animal- head carvings.
More recently, Clones found fame as a lace-making centre. To learn about the history of Clones lace, see it on display or purchase samples, visit the Ulster Canal Stores; hours vary, so call ahead to make sure it's open.
For a small town, Clones has produced its fair share of famous names. It's the hometown of both heavyweight Kevin McBride, whose defeat of Mike Tyson in 2005 was so crushing that it prompted Tyson's immediate retirement, and featherweight boxer Barry McGuigan, who won the world championship in 1985. Clones-born writer Patrick McCabe set his dark novel The Butcher Boy in the town, and in 1997 Neil Jordan filmed the twisted tale here.
Clones upholds its literary traditions when heavyweight poets and authors discuss or read their work at the 'no-brow' Flat Lake Literary and Arts Festival in early June, which combines high art with popular culture. Top-notch comedy, film, theatre and an art auction also feature in the impressive line-up.
The festival takes place 5km south of Clones along the R212 towards Scotshouse, at what is easily the best place to stay in the area.
Hilton Park is a spellbinding country-house retreat that has been in the same family since 1734. It's a magnificent place with stunning views of the 240-hectare estate. Its six spacious guestrooms are bathed in light and decorated with original furniture, free-standing baths and four-poster or half-tester beds. Top-class cuisine, much of it produced in the estate's organic gardens, is served in regal surroundings (dinner €55, by prior arrangement). Rates include breakfast and high tea on arrival. You can also come for kitchen gardening or art courses.
Bus Éireann runs a service from Clones to Monaghan (€4.86, 30 minutes, five buses Monday to Saturday, one Sunday), with connections on to Carrickmacross, Slane and Dublin.
Ulsterbus has one direct service per day between Clones and Belfast (€13.20, 2¼ hours, Monday to Friday).