Historic Towns & Villages Category:
Nestled In A Cluster Of Northern Ireland Counties, Armagh Is The Seat Of The Catholic Church In Ireland
Armagh, the Orchard county of All Ireland, was already one of Ireland’s best known counties and when the late Donegal singer, Bridie Gallagher, recorded “The Boys Of The County Armagh” with her amazing balladeer voice, she took us all on a stroll around the county.
‘Around by the Gap of Mount Norris and home by Blackwater again’ were words in the song that captivated the musical ear of Irish people all around the globe. It’s a lively ballad about one fair county, a county also made famous by St. Patrick who founded a college there that became world famous.
Old authors such as Beade and St. Fiech referred to Armagh as the capital of All Ireland in the early centuries whilst ancient Armagh was the territory of the Ulaid (also known as Voluntii, Ultonians, Ulidians, Ulstermen) before the fourth century AD.
Armagh was ruled by the Red Branch, whose capital was Emain Macha (or Navan Fort) near the city of Armagh. The site and subsequently the city, were named after the goddess Macha.
When the Treaty Of Ireland was signed by Michael Collins and colleagues in 1921, Armagh, despite its close proximity to county Louth, was deemed to be a part of the new six counties of Ulster.
The county has a strong gaelic tradition and in 21st century Ireland, Armagh is a relatively small county whose borders straddle Tyrone, Down, Louth, Monaghan and Antrim. It is sandwiched in-between its bordering counties in the North East of Ireland.
Our history books state Queen Macha of the Spears or otherwise known as Macha of the Golden Hair, built Armagh. She also built a huge palace at Navan Fort near the city and the ruins are still visible.
Macha is also credited with establishing The Red Branch Knights Of Ulster and they occupied homes next to the palace as living quarters. In close proximity was ‘The House Of The Sorrowful Soldier’ which was a hospital to cater for the medical needs of inhabitants.
Further history reading states that St. Patrick was responsible for obliterating all the Armagh rats and the cathedral city is known to be the enemy of rats. Old tales abound that any rats that invade Armagh meet their sudden death and that is attributed to the power of St. Patrick’s prayers.
Other chapters of Irish history state that the Irish warrior, Brian Boru, had a special place in his heart for Armagh and despite capturing Armagh in a battle royal, in his will he made it known, he wanted to be buried in Armagh and his wish was granted.
Brian Boru lost his life in the Battle Of Clontarf, Dublin, on 23rd April 1014 and his funeral procession over roadways from Clontarf to Armagh City, was one of the largest funerals ever held in Ireland.
The county population takes in approximately 170,000 citizens with the City Of Armagh the capital town, whilst Portadown and Lurgan are also large county towns.
St. Patrick made Armagh his clerical seat and this inheritance is held in high values by the Irish Catholic Church who continue to base their Irish Cardinal in Armagh. It is also a majority Catholic stronghold amongst its population taken from a recent census.
As a county stretching across the border lines of the Republic Of Ireland, during the Northern Ireland troubles South Armagh became known in the media as ‘Bandit Country’. Southern regions of the county are majority catholic and its citizens are mainly opposed to British Rule.
Gaelic football is the dominant sport in south Armagh and in some pockets of the south, hurling is taken very seriously. Soccer is very prominent around the county and particularly in the Portadown region.
Another Irish sport with origins in county Cork is Roadbowling and this unique sport is a very important social fabric in south Armagh in many towns and villages. A number of Armagh bowlers have claimed the All Ireland Roadbowling championship and support for the sport is very evident when one crosses over the border and into the town of Keady.
In gaelic football Armagh hold one All Ireland senior football title won in 2002 when they defeated the all conquering Kerry by one point in a thrilling final at Croke Park. However the fortunes of Armagh’s footballers has dimmed in recent years but in a highly competitive arena, the fortunes of many more former All Ireland champions has also dimmed.
Armagh is famous for the amount of orchards in the county and driving through the countryside the orchards represent stunning views for visitors. This is the reason that Armagh is regarded as ‘The Orchard County Of Ireland’.
By Derry JF Doody