Less than an hour from Belfast, Co. Armagh is comprised of Armagh City (the UK's fourth smallest), the towns of Craigavon, Portadown and Lurgan, part of Newry (shared with Co. Down) and a series of pretty villages.
The Ecclesiastical Capital
Armagh City is home to two cathedrals named after Saint Patrick, both perched atop hills and within walking distance of one other. Saint Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral was reportedly founded in 445AD and is the burial place of the last King of Ireland, Brian Boru, who died in 1014. Home to an 11th century Celtic Cross and an unbroken line of bishops since Saint Patrick, the Cathedral offers guided tours throughout the day.
Saint Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral is designed in a traditionally Gothic style and was begun on St. Patrick's Day 17 March 1840, but not completed until 1904. Easily distinguishable by its twin spires, the cathedral holds regular mass for locals and visitors on weekdays and Vital Mass on Sundays.
Exploring the Orchards
Armagh's apple growing dates back over 3000 years and has earned the region its moniker as Ireland's Orchard County. Begin your apple-picking tour in Loughgall Country Park, a town which has long been at the heart of the county's apple-growing industry.
Rumour has it that Saint Patrick himself helped start the county’s flourishing apple-growing industry when he planted an apple tree at the ancient settlement of Ceangoba. Loughgall Country Park also offers an 18-hole golf course and rental bikes. And you can also pop over to Ardress House to further your apple-picking adventures as you take in this stunning 17th century Georgian property wits ith lush woodlands and riverside walks.
Tease your Tastebuds with local Cider
Not surprisingly as the Orchard County of Ireland, Armagh is home to many locally-produced and delectable ciders. Look out for local brands like MacIvors Cider, Maddens and Toby’s Hand-Crafted Cider in bars and restaurants. Visit the Armagh Cider Company in Portadown and tour a working brewery, learn about the cider-making process, taste the fresh cider and non-alcoholic apple juice and chat with cider enthusiasts.
The Great Outdoors
Walking enthusiasts should head to the Navan Centre in Armagh City for the start of Saint Patrick’s Way: The Pilgrim’s Walk. This 82 mile signed walking trail reaches from Armagh to Downpatrick and stops at key religious sites along the way. Before you embark on this epic journey, visit the local tourist office and pick up your walking ‘passport’ to stamp off all the Christian heritage sites you encounter.
Literary and Historic Highlights
Armagh Public Library is the oldest in NI and home to a first edition of Jonathan Swift’s 1726 novel, Gulliver’s Travels, complete with handwritten notes. The library was founded in 1771 by Archbishop Richard Robinson whose archive of 17th and 18th century books make up a key component of the collection. The Greek inscription over the main entrance reads, the healing place of the soul.
The Royal Irish Fusiliers Museum on the Mall in Armagh City houses a vast collection of honourable uniforms, medals and regalia. It also holds the official Regimental Archive and Library which documents the RIF's role in Gallipoli, Salonika and the Western Front.
Also on the Mall, Armagh County Museum's eclectic collection includes Archaeology, Transport, Costume and Art. As the oldest county museum in Ireland, this is one local institution not be missed. Keep up to date with all Armagh events at Armagh.co.uk.