This week the Armagh Ambassadors took a short drive from the City Centre to visit three nearby visitor attractions, the Milford House Collection, the William McCrum Memorial and then the Navan Centre and Fort.
Milford House Collection
Milford Old School House was the venue for a short talk at the start of our first historical tour. Stephen McManus who founded the Milford Preservation Trust in 2000 gave us a warm welcome. He spoke with much passion, pride and enthusiasm and kept his audience spellbound while he delivered a detailed history of the McCrum family, Milford House Museum and village. The Milford House Collection was granted full museum status by the Arts Council in 2012 and is now looking forward to opening its new premises in Victoria St Armagh in the near future.
Milford House (also known as Manor House) is a B1 listed building of national importance and is the former seat of the McCrum family, one of Ireland’s premier linen manufacturing dynasties. Built between 1864 and 1915, the house is famous for being one of the most technically advanced of its day. This included a very early version of the dishwasher and the house was the first in Ireland to be lit by hydroelectricity. The house also saw the first telephone in County Armagh with an internal system.
Milford – The Home of the Penalty Kick
A walk around the village to see the William McCrum Memorial Park was one of the highlights of our visit when some of the Armagh Ambassadors decided to show off their football skills.
In 1890, Mr. William McCrum, who owned Milford House after his father’s death, gave football the penalty kick rule, arguably world sports’ most dramatic rule. McCrum’s idea for penalising foul play around goalmouths rocked the Victorian establishment that ran football. The English FA regarded it as a contradiction in terms: “only gentlemen played soccer and gentlemen didn’t cheat” – while the press angrily condemned the “Irishman’s motion” as a “death sentence” for the game. Although an Irish league founder and one of their key administrators, the young goalkeeper got little or no credit and the penalty rule passed into history as a happy accident. But then who could have foretold just how important the kick would become, going on to decide the outcome of some of the world’s greatest cup competitions? The monument commemorating the world famous invention sits proudly in McCrum Park and has attracted many celebrities from around the football world.
Now thanks to the dedicated work of the Milford Buildings Preservation Trust, Milford is once again world famous and the Mc Crum family legacy is being recognized as being of national importance. The village is known worldwide as the home of the penalty kick and Milford House is taking its right place as one of the great historic houses of Europe.
Nosh and Knowledge
The next stop for the Armagh Ambassadors was the Navan Centre and Fort which was just a short drive from Milford village. On arrival, we were greeted with the aroma of freshly baked scones in the Navan Centre Restaurant and some of the Ambassadors had the opportunity to sample Navan’s famous nettle scones which were made from young nettles picked on the previous day.
Our “Nosh and Knowledge” speaker was John Makem, one of the organisers from the annual Bard of Armagh event. As a revered storyteller, John explained the role the ancient bards played in storytelling through the ages and the recent success of the ‘Bard of Armagh’ annual competition which is working hard to re-establish this old tradition. One of the Ambassadors requested a poem and John duly obliged with his rendition of “The Cow”. Click here to see him in action.
Navan Centre and Fort
Once refreshed from our coffee break, the Navan Centre Manager Grace Greer welcomed us to Navan. She gave us a brief history of the centre, which initially, under private ownership, opened in July 1993. Unfortunately, the centre closed in June 2001 but was reopened by Armagh City & District Council in 2005. The centre is now open 7 days a week, 51 weeks of the year.
Navan Centre tour guide Matthew Avenell then began an introduction to the centre, explaining how the centre combines the archaeological reports from the 1960s, with the Ulster Cycle of Tales, written by monks in the 7th / 8th century AD.
Matthew then took us into the exhibition and explained how Eamain Macha fits into the local landscape, followed by a short video explaining the timeline of activity at Eamain Macha, and the surrounding area. He also showed a video of the Ceremonial Temple which was constructed at Eamain Macha in 95BC, and its eventual sacrifice and abandonment.
We then moved into the theatre where we saw a 12-minute video of the stories from the Ulster Cycle of Tales: How Eamain Macha got its name, the Tain Bo Cuailnge and the story of Cuchullain. This was a shortened version of the 26 minute AV show which also tells the story of Deirdre of the Sorrows.
After a quick visit to the newly opened Archaeological Playground where Armagh Ambassador Des McDermott tried out the slide, Matthew then took us to the Iron Age Dwelling, where the two costumed characters from the Living History Department spent 20 minutes explaining about the dwelling and their everyday life as Celts.
This was followed by a short walk along the Eco Trail path to a point where we could actually see Mound B, the bank and ditch. Matthew explained what we were actually looking at and pointed out where Haughey’s Fort and the King’s Stables were situated.
An informative if somewhat condensed tour which gives a real insight into the history of the site and its importance as a candidate for World Heritage Status.
The Centre is well laid out for a great family day out with all age groups being catered for and is definitely a destination of choice for any visitors to the Armagh area.
Written by Gail Steed, Ciaran McMahon, Wanda Johns and Caitlin McKeever
Photography by Caitlin McKeever