Saint Patrick And Armagh

Armagh is an ancient place. It predates Christianity for which it is internationally known today with its two majestic Cathedrals of Saint Patrick, Georgian buildings, Observatory and Planetarium, Navan Fort, Saint Patrick’s Train, Former Archbishops Palace, Chapel and Stables, and many other paces of interest. But it all began many millennia ago.

Ard Macha, or 'Macha's Height' was established around 600BC after the pagan queen who used the security of a steep sided hill to build a fortress where the present Church of Ireland Cathedral is now situated. Queen Macha was wife of Nevry and is reputed to have arrived in Ireland 608 years after the biblical flood.

Brian Ború
Brian Ború

About 300 years later the legendary Emain Macha, the old name for Navan Fort was built by another Queen Macha. This ancient fort on the outskirts of Armagh City is famed in legend and folklore as the ancient capital of Ulster and the ancient seat of Ulster’s Kings and Queens. Navan Fort is the origin of a world-renowned series of stories known as the Ulster Cycle recalling Irish legends, such as Cu Chulainn, King Conor, Deirdre of the Sorrows and recounts famous battles like the Cattle Raid of Cooley.

It was Ard Macha, this centre of political power and influence in Ireland, that Patrick chose as a base from which to spread Christianity throughout the Island. Saint Patrick built his first stone and Chief Church in Ireland in Armagh in 445AD on the site of the current Church of Ireland Cathedral.

The last the High King of Ireland, Brian Ború was buried in the grounds of the Cathedral after the Battle of Clontarf in 1014AD. He was familiar with the area having previously camped at Navan Fort during his visit to Armagh to make offerings to the Church.

Saint Patrick's first church became a focus for the establishment of colleges, schools and other churches and by the 8th century, Armagh was a major centre of learning. It had gained a reputation as a City of 'Saints and Scholars' and for almost one thousand years the city produced many of the finest scholars in Britain and Ireland, playing an important role in the spread of Christianity throughout Northern Europe.

Armagh was raided at least 10 times between the years 800 and 1000, principally by the Vikings because of its wealth and learning with many clergy, teachers and scholars killed or taken into slavery. Over the next centuries, including the reformation and plantation of Ulster, there were many battles and skirmishes involving the English, the O'Neills and local population. The Battles of Benburb and the Diamond are recalled to this day.

The Georgian period saw Armagh being extensively developed by Archbishop Robinson leaving a wonderful legacy for the modern generation of a ‘City of Splendour’ with its many fine buildings of classical architectural merit. He wanted to make Armagh the undisputed Christian Capital of Ireland.

Armagh Anglican Cathedral Armagh Roman Catolic Cathedral
Armagh Anglican Cathedral Armagh Roman Catolic Cathedral

In 1840, Saint Patrick's Roman Catholic Cathedral was built on an elevated site. The Cathedral has a beautiful interior and around the altar hangs the ‘red hats’ of deceased Cardinals, some of whom are buried in the grounds. It has an imposing presence on the city skyline and faces the other Cathedral of the Saint. Both Cathedrals have numerous reminders of Saint Patrick not least in their wonderful stained glass windows.

Alongside Roman Catholics and Anglicans, many other Christian denominations worship in the Armagh, including Methodists, Presbyterians, Free Presbyterians, Baptists, Brethren, and Elim, and although very small in number there are other faiths and cultures represented in Saint Patrick’s City.

Saint Patrick in his famed confession sets the tone for all faiths in Ireland beginning with the words: -

"I am Patrick, a sinner, most unlearned, the least of all the faithful, and utterly despised by many..."