Visiting the oldest inhabited hill in Armagh starts with the best view of the city. We didn’t need the icy wind to take our breath away as the view is more than capable of doing that and allowed us to see why Archbishop Robinson loved this city and walking around the Church of Ireland Cathedral you get a sense of why St Patrick had previously chosen this hill for his Ecclesiastical Capital – a title still held by Armagh City today. Walking around this ancient site with the bells ringing in the history from the grave of High King Brian Boru to the oldest Public Library, there is no escaping the sense of all those who have went before.
The hidden gems are all around you starting at the Registry. No 5 Vicar’s Hill is a lovingly restored Georgian building built to house the extensive records of the Diocese but now houses one of the most varied and eclectic collections in Armagh.
Started by Archbishop Richard Robinson, it houses Roman coins, wax seals and some quite odd engravings that give its visitor a brief overview of what Armagh would have been like over the preceding 15 centuries. The stories that accompany the rich history lead you happily down to its neighbour and the oldest Public Library in Ireland.
Founded again by Robinson, it houses the most amazing collection of books, maps and other collectables from the Archbishop and his successors. Born out of a love of education and wishing to provide this for future generations, the Library allows you a chance to step back in time and google map the 18th century way as well as look at books going back over 300 years including a real gem of Dean Swift’s first edition of Gulliver’s Travels with his own annotations in the margins. As with the original wishes of Archbishop Robinson, this collection continues to grow and remains free to view by all.
A separate but equally beautiful building hides another secret on the hill. The Irish and Local Studies Library is located in another of Robinson’s old buildings, the Blind hospital. A modern day library this real hidden gem is located in the bottom of the hospital building and continues were the Public Library left off. Anything to do with
Armagh City, County and the wider island of Ireland can be found here. A researcher’s paradise, the library can help all those wishing to find out about their family roots, where they live or indeed lose a few hours.
A quick respite in the only restaurant on the hill – frankly the warm welcome is reason enough to visit it but 4 Vicar’s Hill also offers the best scones we have ever tasted. The view from the windows overlooking the Cathedral grounds are stunning.
The original site of St Patrick’s stone church in Ireland has changed many times over the years but is still a fully operational place of worship. Although not as ornate as some churches and cathedrals, St Patrick’s Church of Ireland is still awe inspiring. The attention to detail is in everything you see from the grates on the floor to the plaster roses on the vaulted ceiling above. St Patrick even looks down from his lofty position in the choir stalls.
Bishops and Archbishops all the way back to Patrick are named and rest among the memorials of famous sons and daughters of the city. This goes surprisingly hand in hand with the remnants of an ancient Celtic Cross and the Tandragee Man.
But as you look past all these to the lady chapel at the rear of the Cathedral, you are met with the stunning screen depicting the last supper. Made of three different types of artistic styles – mosaic, inlay work and painting onto plaster it is simply stunning.
However the real surprise in this Cathedral is the Crypt. Accessible from outside of the Cathedral, this crypt shows the past and the present in quiet and reflective harmony. Whole families are buried in relative simplicity but with no less reverance and when it is discovered that many bodies could have been stolen for “research”, the safety of the crypt comes into its own.
The outside noise of the city are hidden behind the thick walls of the Cathedral and to a certain extent the entire hill of Armagh is a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Written by Susan Mercer and Shona Gourley, Armagh Ambassadors, 9th February 2016