Armagh city proved to be a great surprise as a place to visit. We have been a number of times across the border, but not Armagh, which was recommended for its important history.
It might have an image of Cathedrals and prayer, given that it’s known as the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, as well as having had its share of political and violent troubles in past generations. The latter has led to major investment with its architectural glories restored with post-peace dividend funding.
As a settlement, Armagh dates back to the 5th century and St. Patrick, who was granted land for a church after a miracle cure was performed on a local chieftain.
The city was late to get a charter in the 1990s but has a population of 15,000. Its early days were as a place of church learning. It never made the transition to university status but is known more for vocational education, where a relation of ours worked for many years.
It boasts a fine cultural centre, the Market Place, where King Charles visited in the summer. Apart from our home city of Waterford, it must have the best Mall in Ireland with a huge green playing area, formerly used for horse racing, now used for cricket, as local worthies were not in favour of horses.
This open park or tree-lined Mall can remind one of English cities. Many period buildings date from the late 1700s, when Church of Ireland Archbishop Robinson became not just a very influential church leader but also a brilliant town and city planner.
The unique plan has been retained compared to Dublin, where some Georgian buildings were torn down as reminders of the imperial past. Limerick also has good Georgian building heritage, but Armagh surpasses the Munster city in its careful restoration, no doubt helped by state and EU funding. A Georgian festival is planned for November this year.
Charlemont Place on the Mall, where business professionals work, has some brilliant architecture. Nearby there’s a county museum, an old Orange Hall, where membership is slipping. Some Baptist, Presbyterian and Methodist live in the area too, where religion has a big influence.
Brian McDonald, our city guide, is a former council worker and admirer of Waterford hurling teams. He conducted the 1.5-hour walking tour and had a wealth of information to share about the town and its renaissance, a very pleasant way to discover Armagh’s past and present, and we highly recommend it. Donna Fox Tours can do a 2-hour walking tour for four for £60.
In the thick of the Troubles, some waste areas were left behind but now are restored in old local quarried limestone. One of these streets is called Dobbin Street, where old farm markets were held. It now has some cute gargoyles recalling medieval and other times with fantastical creatures.
The city also features this in a quirky art trail. Artist Holger Christian Lonze was the creator depicting past days. The city has many little lanes and streets for exploring.
Dobbin is a local name in these parts and we would recall the name Dobbyn McCoy in Waterford and the Mayoral lists of the past recorded Dobbyns also.
Dobbin Street was bombed in the past, with local stores destroyed, but now seems to have a new life. Property is great value with some terraced houses selling for a modest £100,000, with £200,000 for semi-detached homes. Employment is more focused on farming and agribusiness. Nearby Newry would be a busier trading hub.
There are some fine old city walls based around the two Cathedrals of St. Patrick, with the Church of Ireland one having more history. The Catholic one was built on a hill above the city after the Famine. Both its architect and Bishop would die in the aftermath of the Great Hunger, the Bishop having contracted cholera, which was rife at the time.
This Cathedral was completed in the 1870s. There are great views from both of the city and nearby drumlins. Armagh is also known as the city of seven hills.
The Church of Ireland gothic cathedral, built in 1840, is surrounded by parkland, with the Brian Boru grave an impressive site near the arts and cultural centre. This is called Market Place, where King Charles visited in late May.
Pubs and clubs
Across the road is the Uluru. Like the pub in Waterford, it has an Australian connection. The Armagh version is more bar & grill in style and even serves kangaroo. It is a popular dining place among the locals. We enjoyed the Malaysian seafood as there is an Asian approach also. There are lots of good food and evening-meal options in the city, ideal after you have had a long walk.
Armagh tourism also recommend Embers Coffee House and Grill Bar, Mulberry Bistro, and Red Neds Bar, as well as the Callan Bar in the Armagh City Hotel. Armagh has many local pubs for music e.g., the “Hole in the Wall” from earlier times.
Armagh excels in music. We passed a pipers’ club, where one can learn pipes, the flute and other wind instruments, which are also made here. It’s possible to come across weekend workshops and in the autumn there is a piping festival, where performers come from a wide area, local and national.
A Dublin friend told us how he was really impressed by the local trad scene in the town. Again, there’s so much to discover and enjoy in Armagh.
We missed the Navan Fort, two miles out, where the first settlements originated. There is a St. Patrick’s trail to Downpatrick and even to Slieve Mish in the Antrim hills north of Belfast, so your visit could be extended by taking in these sites.
Our guide showed us a haunted house also near the Cathedral on 6 Vicars hill, where a young woman died in tragic circumstances. This house was unoccupied for many years afterwards, even though it’s in such a fine location looking over the city.
The Cathedral grounds also bear the remains of Brian Boru which were brought here after the Battle of Clontarf in 1016. The famous Irish King who defeated the Danes in Dublin is honoured here with a memorial. There are also superb views of the city and countryside from this prominent sacred place.
Down the hill, we learned about church rivalry in the late 1700s, where Bishop Robinson was challenged by Methodist church leader and chief John Wesley, who claimed that Dr. Robinson had more interest in buildings than souls. There is also a special Robinson Library featuring many treasures, including an original copy of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels on Abbey Street.
You will find more Methodist churches near the Mall and also a Baptist one and a Presbyterian Hall too, as well as some other non-conformist places. They all still operated although fewer numbers are attending these days.
On the Mall there is a memorial to the Boer War, where many locals died. We noted southern names like Walsh and Murphy in the list which covered the religious divide. Most were Royal Fusiliers; another was for WWI.
While we were being given the information by tour guide Brian, a granddad came over to mention that there was an anti-Boer war memorial for Irish that fought on the Afrikaner/white South Africa side and he wanted us to be aware of balance.
Political change in Armagh city wards has seen unionist numbers reduced to one out of five councillors, against three from Sinn Féin and one SDLP seat in the latest local elections. Many young people do not vote, and the unionist population is down, with its vote dwindling. Yet there was a successful Royal visit in May, as mentioned. Armagh is a city now at peace and can host such an event, despite politics.
We researched old national news files, where Armagh city had many atrocities during the 1970s and 80s, when shops and pubs were bombed and people were killed. Some police murders would be followed by sectarian attacks. The town has moved on and is now enjoying better times.
People are welcoming and offer friendly surprises. We sought directions in Devlins Bar at one point and the locals were all willing to assist and see visitors’ needs sorted.
Now the city has undergone a renaissance, it is highly recommended as a place to visit. We should take advantage and learn more about our northern neighbours.
Armagh City Hotel was also very welcoming, with comfortable rooms, a good carvery and breakfast, plus a leisure centre with ample parking in the city centre.
We vowed to return and check out the Planetarium; this was another initiative of Archbishop Robinson in 1790. Navan Fort is another must-see on an old drumlin 2 miles outside the city where early settlements and defences were constructed.
We visited an 80-acre orchard farm outside Armagh on the road to Portadown. The Troughton family apple farm has been making Armagh Cider for four generations. This can be bought in Aldi Waterford. It may be the biggest Irish brand after Bulmer’s of Clonmel, which is sweeter. The Armagh Cider Company host a harvest/cidermaking festival in September with music, craic and masterclasses.
Armagh grows the most apples in Ireland of any county. This area south of Lough Neagh on a drumlin has a beneficial microclimate best for apples. It has less frost due to elevation and is inland, with high-tree wind shelter. They offer farm tours and have a great farm shop for apple juices, Carsons dry cider, sweet cider and other local produce. We tasted the high-quality apple juice and the family proved great hosts to visitors, including some Americans there on a special tour.
Nestled in the heart of historic Armagh, the Armagh City Hotel welcomes you to a world of comfort, elegance, and warm Irish hospitality. Our hotel is perfect for travellers seeking a memorable stay. With spacious and beautifully newly refurbished rooms, modern amenities, and impeccable service, we strive to create an unforgettable experience for every guest. Indulge in culinary delights at our onsite restaurants or relax and rejuvenate with our spa and wellness facilities. Situated near iconic landmarks such as Armagh Observatory and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, our location allows you to explore the rich history and culture of the area with ease. Whether you’re here for business or leisure, the Armagh City Hotel is the perfect choice for a remarkable stay in this vibrant city. To book a stay visit: www.armaghcityhotel.com or call: +44 28 37 51 88 88
Quick Guide Places to stay: Armagh City Hotel Drinks: Try the “Hole in the wall” olde worlde pub, Devlins, and Shambles Bar on Lower English Street for music and chat. Food: Uluru, Keegan’s bar and restaurant, Callans food bar in Armagh City Hotel Getting there from Waterford: By car: it is 300km and a 3hr drive via the M9, M50 and M1/A1 to Newry, and then onto A28 to Armagh. By public transport: train to Newry via Dublin then bus, or Waterford bus to Dublin Airport, then bus X4 to Derry, stopping at Armagh. www.discovernorthernireland.com