Northern Ireland Stories and Tips

A Few Hours in Armagh

 Shopping District and along Pilgrims walk Photo,

"There’s one fair county in Ireland
with memories so glorious and grand,
where nature has lavished its bounty
it’s the orchard of Erin’s green land.
I love her cathedrals and cities
once founded by Patrick so true,
and it holds in the heart of its bosom
the ashes of Brian Boru”

It was from Armagh that the Saint Patrick set about converting the pagan Irish to Christianity. The two cathedrals are named Saint Patrick’s and Armagh is the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland. St. Patrick built his first church here in 445 A.D. St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland now stands on the site of the original church, which was destroyed and rebuilt many times; the present church dates from around 1834-37 but its core is medieval.

Inside the stained glass windows are the first things that impress: light fills this church and tiny prisms dance around the nave in a rainbow of colours. A stone slab on the exterior wall in the north transept marks the burial place of Brian Boru, high king of Ireland who was slain in the battle of Contarf in 1014. An interesting granite stone figure stands at the church's rear and is believed to date from the iron age; it is certainly an idol of some kind. There are also the remains of an 11th-century cross {Celtic} and various archaeological artifacts. Entrance is free to visit this church, although a small donation would assist in maintaining this lovely place.

Just a few minutes' walk from the Church of Ireland, the other St. Patrick’s dominates the town. The twin spires can be seen for miles because the church sits atop one of Armagh’s many hills. Building began on this cathedral in 1840 but was suspended during the famine years. Work re-commenced in1854 but its interior was not fully completed until the 20th century. Its wall are filled with sumptuous mosaics, lots of gilt, and stained glass. The mosaics represent many saints and are completely in contrast to the other cathedral.

We hoped to visit the Navan and Trian visitor centers; unfortunately, they were closed {Oct 1- March 1. Please read overview for these centers}. We were just a few days too late.

The Navan Fortess was the seat of the Kings of Ulster and Navan center explains the fort and its archaeological usefulness. Interactive audio video displays relate the fortress’ many myths and legends.

Because everything we wanted to see was closed, we decided to walk around the town, have a Guinness, and peruse the little market that was held on that day. The shambles market was housed in the old, walled market yard close by the RC cathedral. There were lots of cheap carpets, flowers, and really heavy cotton towels and bathrobes. We didn’t find anything we wanted but I would like to have attended the “car boot sale” scheduled for the weekend.

The lady at the tourist office gave us a guided walking map called “The Pilgrims Walk” and we did manage to check out the town this way. In the summer, guides are available and the walk takes around an hour and a half. Armagh was built on a series of hills and so some steep climbs are encountered.

The official and well-signed walk starts and ends at the tourist office. The walk takes in all the heritage buildings including the churches {John Wesley preached at the old Methodist on Abbey St.}. The old Presbyterian meeting house and Vicars Hill are wonderful examples of the Georgian influence; the row houses there date from around 1754. Take the time to climb the hill housing the Catholic church because aside from the church there are excellent views of Armagh from the summit.

We were a bit let down that none of the attractions were open but we liked the feel of the town and enjoyed seeing its beautiful buildings and old, narrow cobbled streets. This is not a touristy town but it is packed with interesting museums and heritage centers, plus the Armagh observatory and planetarium have scheduled exhibits and hands-on experiences for anyone interested in astronomy and is unique in Ireland.

I would recommend visiting the town between March 1 and October 1 in order to visit all the sites. We do intend to return to the town and spend a couple of days in one of its many B& Bs.

Here is the last word from a popular Irish ballad.

“It’s my dear Irish home, far across the foam
although I’ve often left her in foreign lands to roam
no matter where I wander in cities near or far sure my heart belongs in old Ireland
in the County of Armagh...”

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