Armagh – one of the oldest settlements in Ireland – has a rich tapestry of history, heritage and culture woven into the buildings and the rolling green landscape surrounding the city.
It is the ecclesiastical and spiritual capital of Ireland, famous throughout this island and beyond. It is unique for the fact that it is the only city in the world to have two cathedrals named after the same saint – St Patrick – the patron Saint of Ireland.
The Church of Ireland Cathedral and the Roman Catholic Cathedral are both located on hilltops overlooking the city and the lush green countryside, a vista of small rounded hills called ‘Drumlins’ which are a legacy of the ice age some 10,000 years ago.
One woman, who knows all there is to know, is Armagh tour guide, Donna Fox. Donna has been a registered Blue Badge Level 4 guide and a member of the Northern Ireland Tourist Guide Association since 1997, and followed her dream after a period of travelling and working abroad which inspired her to work with visitors to her own country.
From Unearthing Macha to her insights into Georgian Armagh, many have had the pleasure of a stroll through the city with her over the years.
“This city has such a colourful history from the iron age right up to the present day,” Donna told Armagh I.
“Armagh gained its name from the legendary Macha. She was a mythological warrior queen and the settlement became known as Ard Mhacha (height of Macha) as she is said to have been laid to rest on this hilltop. St Patrick travelled back to Ireland as a Bishop in 432 AD, he was drawn to Armagh which he called “my sweet hill” and founded his first stone church on the Hill of Armagh, Drumsaillech, in 445 AD.”
In the centuries that followed, Armagh celebrated a golden age, when it was home to over 7,000 monastic scholars and was the hub of the island of Saints and Scholars. Fast forwarding to the 18th century – under the Primateship of Archbishop Richard Robinson – Armagh became one of the best examples of Irish Georgian architecture. He employed the crème de la crème of talented architects to create many of the wonderful buildings that we still enjoy today.
As well as this rich and diverse history, Co Armagh is known as the ‘Orchard County of Ireland’ due to the multiple apple orchards, primarily of the Bramley variety which abound in the surrounding countryside. Armagh is undoubtedly a cultural hub. It is rich with music, art, dance, storytelling, literature and sport. History and heritage are to be found around every corner of this city.
Said Donna: “visitors always remark on how beautiful this city is, admiring a wonderful range of architecture within a conservation area, we have wide open spaces, a beautiful large public park, The Mall, in the city centre, as well as parks located on the periphery of Armagh. It has be be said that we have some of the friendliest people you will ever meet.
“Armagh is indeed a gem of a city”.
Key Sites: St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, Armagh Robinson Library & No 5 Vicars’ Hill, Armagh Infirmary, Armagh Observatory & Planetarium, Archbishop’s Palace, Armagh Courthouse, The Mall, Market Place Theatre & Arts Centre, Cardinal O’Fiaich & Archive, Armagh County Museum, The Royal Irish Fusiliers Museum, Market House (Armagh City Library), Cultural Heritage Service Library, Aonach Mhacha, Armagh Gaol, Navan Centre & Fort. N.B Some of these buildings are not open to the public.