The cradle of Irish Christianity is really much nearer, and easier to get to, than you might think. In just 48 hours you can touch base with the ancient capitals of counties Armagh and Down, which form part of the Saint Patrick’s Trail. The trail itself comprises of a 92 mile linear driving route and links 15 key Christian Heritage Sites which have been identified as having some connection to Saint Patrick’s life, mission or legacy.
St Patricks Cathedral ArmaghBegin At The Beginning
Just two hours from Dublin you can explore the elegant Georgian streets and tree lined malls of Armagh. Known for 1500 years as the Ecclesiastical Capital of Ireland it is seen traditionally as the seat of both Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland Archbishops. Saint Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral occupies the site of Saint Patrick’s fifth century church. Despite a turbulent history, the 13th century site is a place of great serenity. Centuries later, the Saint Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral was built, with its stunning architecture and stained glass windows. Work on this Cathedral commenced in 1840 but was suspended due to the great famine and therefore it was not consecrated until 1904.
Artefacts and collections of archaeological material reflecting Armagh’s leading role in early Christian Ireland can be found at Armagh County Museum, and the 17th and 18th century books belonging to Archbishop Robinson can be found at Armagh Public Library. So unique is this library, hours could be spent researching a vast collection of material relating to Christian heritage in Ireland and Europe.
Interact with St. Patrick’s Life and Legacy
Downpatrick and County Down RailwayOn route to Downpatrick follow the Saint Patrick’s Trail and stop at Bagenal’s Castle in Newry, the site of a 12th Century Cisterian Abbey. Little remains of the Abbey today, but excavations have revealed human remains, pottery and a 12th Century slab of granite bearing a celtic cross. In the graveyard surrounding Down Cathedral in Downpatrick you can visit Saint Patrick’s Grave. Tradition has it that on his death Patrick’s remains were loaded onto an ox-cart, which was then allowed to seek out his final resting place. His grave is marked with a large stone and cross engraved with the name Patric.
Further information about his intriguing life can be found at the Saint Patrick Centre which takes you on a Journey using film and video, and focuses on Saint Patrick’s own words drawn from a confession made near the end of his life. Nearby an impressive collection of early Christian artefacts from carved stone crosses to works of art and material relating to the Saint can be found at the Down County Museum.
From the town you can take the steam train on the Downpatrick and County Down Railway through Saint Patrick’s country to the ruined Cistercian Inch Abbey where medieval scribes recorded many early Christian legends. Three miles from Downpatrick is the quaint and peaceful Saul Church which stands on the site which is thought to have been the first ecclesiastical site in Ireland. From here you can also visit the holy wells at Struell, known for their reputed healing powers or experience the views at the top of Slieve Patrick.
At Strangford take the ferry across to Portaferry and travel to the village of Greyabbey which is known for its antique shops. It is also home to one of the finest examples of anglo Norman ecclesiastical architecture in the ruin of what was once Grey Abbey.
Bangor Abbey, founded in the 6th Century by Saint Comgall of Bangor, was one of the most influential seats of learning in Ireland at the time of his death in 601. The North Down Museum is also home to a copy of the Antiphonary of Bangor one of the most important manuscripts from the early Irish church and ninth century Bangor Bell.
See here for full information on the key attractions on the Saint Patrick’s Trail, or download the St. Patrick’s Trail Map & Discount Vouchers.