Armagh has often been the scene of battle: County Armagh is predominantly Catholic, especially in the south, but the city itself is a Protestant stronghold. The two rival cathedrals, both dedicated to St Patrick, scowl at each other from two of Armagh’s seven small hills. The Protestant one is kept locked for security reasons, but instructions for obtaining the key are posted on the door. Solid, squat and square, it is mostly 19thcentury in perpendicular Gothic style, with a fringe of grotesque heads around its otherwise plain exterior. It is the burial place of Brian Boru, the warlike king who finally drove the Vikings out of Ireland. The Roman Catholic cathedral, completed in 1873, stands proudly twin-spiredat the top of a long flight of steps. The interior is astonishingly ornate – walls and roof covered with rich mosaics of saints and angels.
The Mall, a broad, tree-lined square, is surrounded by some of Armagh’s finest Georgian buildings, including the courthouse and the Royal Irish Fusiliers and County Museums. The town’s most unusual sights are th 18th century Observatory and neighbouring Planetarium, where computer displays and models track down heavenly bodies. They stand in a park specially laid out to show the relationships of the planets. Navan Fort, now just a huge mound to the west, was an ancient palace of Queen Macha, a site which rivaled Tara, and the court of Ulster’s chivalrous Red Branch Knights.
The ancient game of road bowls is played along the local roads around the city ( a version of it can also be seen in Schull, County Cork). A heavy iron ball about the size of a cricket ball is hurled along the lanes, and the aim is to reach the end of the winding 4km course in the fewest number of throws. Betting is fierce. Ask for details in pubs if you want to see a game – but most take place on Sunday afternoons, and the first Sunday in August is Championship day.
See Armagh if you are coming on a cruise ship on one of our Belfast Tours.
If you are on a tour of Ireland stop off with Ireland Luxury Tours.