Daily Archives: April 3, 2011

A Tour of Ireland ~ Episode 25

After a couple of weeks break, I return to continue the tour around the 6 Counties of Northern Ireland.


Armagh is known as the garden of Ireland and considered the spiritual capital for 1,500 years and the seat of both the Protestant and Catholic archbishops, the venerable city of Armagh predates Canterbury as a Christian religious site. Armagh was also the legendary seat of the Celtic kings of Ulster. It has a vibrant city, with hospitable people and great attractions.

In the City of Armagh itself are the two Cathedrals of St Patrick – the Church of Ireland Saint Patrick established his first stone church, on the site where the cathedral stands today, in 445 ad and decreed that Armagh should have pre-eminence over all Irish churches. Armagh, like Navan Fort (Emain Macha) takes its name from the Celtic Goddess Macha – Ard Mhacha means ‘Macha’s Height’.  The present cathedral was first built in the 13th century and has been rebuilt several times, most recently between 1834 and 1840. Around the cathedral was built one of the most famous of the great Irish Monastic Schools to which students came from all over Europe.  Brian Bórú, the last Ard Rí or High King of Ireland (arguably the only one who actually controlled the entire country) is buried here. He was murdered after the Battle of Clontarf on Good Friday, 1014 ad.   On the neighbouring hill is the Roman Catholic Cathedral begun 1840.

In the City Centre beside the Tourist Information Centre is St Patrick’s Trian Visitor Complex where you can explore the history of the settlement since pagan times and  unlock the secrets of the Book of Armagh, a ninth century manuscript containing the life of St Patrick.  Nearby, in Market Square is the modern Market Place Theatre and Arts Centre.

Francis Johnston, the best architect in Ireland at the time, built the Courthouse and a house that is now the Bank of Ireland, and Archbishop Richard Robinson laid out the  magnificent oval tree-lined Mall with elegant Georgian buildings surrounding it in the centre of the city, cricket is played here in the summer. He also founded the cathedral Library and the Observatory, and built the Archbishop’s Palace, now the council offices.  In the grounds are a superb 18th-century chapel, by Francis Johnston, and a 13th-century friary, and there is a heritage centre in the stables.  Along the Mall is the county museum.

Armagh Public library was founded in 1771 by Archbishop Richard Robinson and is the oldest public library in Northern Ireland.  It is home to some 500 years of books many from the Archbishop’s own collection of 17th & 18th century books on theology, philosophy, classic and modern literature, voyages, history, medicine and law.  It includes a first edition of Gulliver’s Travels containing Swift’s own handwritten notes (1726).

The Armagh Observatory is a modern astronomical research institute with a rich heritage. Founded in 1790, the Observatory has around 25 astronomers actively studying Stellar Astrophysics, the Sun, Solar System astronomy, and the Earth’s climate. The Observatory is funded by major grants from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure for Northern Ireland and the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council.

Palace Stables Heritage Centre – a restored Georgian stable block situated next to the impressive Primate’s Palace, formerly the home of the Archbishops of the Church of Ireland from 1770 until 1970s.  Guided tours can be organised by arrangement, costumed interpreters recreate both the grandeur and the squalor of the Georgian period.

Armagh City and District cover roughly mid County Armagh and the area is rich in places of historical, cultural and industrial archaelogical interest:

The site of the Battle of the Yellow Ford (1598) a little north of the City or the sites of the Battle of the Daimond (1795) where one can visit Dan Winters’ Cottage and Dan Winters Ancestral Home as well as nearby Loughgall where the Orange Order was founded after the battle.  Scenic drivestake you along country roads to visit the apple blossom county around Loughgall in early May or stopping off at the two National Trust properties in the area – The Argory and Ardresss Houses near to Moy/Charlemont.
During the years the areas has many cultural, music and sporting festival.  So everyone both local and visitor alike will usually find something to interest them.

Keady and Milford grew in the 19th Centre on the Strength of the linen industry.  Markethill and Tandragee have castle seats of the landed gentry – Markethills, now closed is in the picturesque Gosford Forest Park while Tandragee Castle now houses a potato crisp factory.

Tynan Cross stands by the roadside, opposite the churchyard wall in the pretty village of Tynan. It dates to the 8th or 9th century and is highly ornamented. Like many crosses of its kind in Ulster, it consists of a number of fragments of different crosses mounted on top of one another. According to tradition Cromwell’s soldiers vandalised the earlier crosses. the village Celtic Cross is from the 8th Centrury and there are other crosses in nearby Tynan Abbey Estate (private property).

Derrymore House & Gardens spread over 48 acres of parkland.  There are a variety of walks ,but the house is currently closed.  It is an elegant thatched cottage, built in the late 18th century by Issac Corry and believed to be where the details of the Act of Union were drafted.

The Ring of Guillion is an area of outstanding beauty in the south of the county, sites of interest include Kilnasaggart Inscribed Stone and Moyry Castle built in 1601 to secure the mountain pass known as the Gap of the North.