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16 October 2014
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Armagh, St Patrick's other home...

Patrick's association with Armagh is sometimes overlooked. Barbara Ferguson gives us her views.

Saint Patrick - between Down and Armagh

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Down v Armagh

The memory of Magonus Sucatus Patricius is celebrated with pints of Stout turning green in the four corners of the world each March. But where in Ireland is the patron saint most at home?

If you ask anyone which part of Ireland they most associate with Saint Patrick, chances are they'll reply "Downpatrick".

With his first church said to be in Saul, close to Downpatrick, and his grave sited in the cemetery of Down Cathedral, the people of Down seem to have a solid case for the prime association with the saint. Curiously, his association with Armagh is often overlooked, even though Armagh City remains the centre of the church in Ireland. So what's the story?

Barbara Ferguson
Barbara Ferguson

Barbara Ferguson has spent many years researching the place where she lives and has gathered an enviable knowledge of the county of Armagh. She regularly conducts tours of the city, covering many topics, of which St.Patrick is just one. She firmly believes that Armagh is a strong contender for the seat of St Patrick in Ireland. Barbara explains...

"The story goes that when he arrived in Armagh, somewhere towards the end of his mission to Ireland, Patrick wanted to build a great stone church on what was once a very important pagan hilltop site. This was the mound where Queen Maeve had ruled from before moving to nearby Navan Fort. At that time Ireland was largely woodlands and lakes and its people were more or less still hunter/gatherers. Virtually all buildings would have been wooden. Stone represented strength and permanence.

His first request to build was refused. He had approached Dara the Chieftain of the area for permission to build his church on this hilltop. Dara, who was not at all happy with this new Christian practice, would not give permission but instead gave him an alternative site in Ferta Street (now Scotch Street) on which to build.

Navan Fort - Armagh
Navan Fort, Armagh dates back to around 1000BC. Queen Maeve ruled from here around 440AD.

 

This site was well away from the original hilltop he wanted but Patrick went ahead and built a small wooden hut there - we in Armagh call this his 'temporary residence' because, eventually, Dara embraced Christianity and did give Patrick the ancient hilltop site.

Patrick built his great stone church here in 445AD and made Armagh the centre of the church in Ireland. The Church or Ireland Cathedral now sits on the very same spot. Armagh remains to this day the centre of the church and is now known as the Ecclesiastical Capital or Christian Capital of Ireland."

Listen - Barbara Ferguson talks about Patrick's mission in relation to Armagh

 

Church of Ireland Cathedral, Armagh , on the site of Patrick's stone church
Church of Ireland Cathedral Armagh, on the site of Patrick's stone church in 445AD

 

Many people visit Trinity College Dublin to view the Book of Kells but few take time or indeed know about the ancient Book of Armagh also compiled in the 9th Century. It is in the Book of Armagh that we find the Confessions of Saint Patrick as written by himself. Here we learn a lot about what kind of person he was and why he chose Armagh.

The great monastic settlement which followed Patrick's time in Armagh produced many missionaries who travelled worldwide. These missionaries carried relics with them when they went out to preach. Relics were normally carried in cases which were called shrines and were regarded as sacred.

Saint PatrickArmagh was once home to three "Relics of Saint Patrick". One an early 12th Century Episcopal staff which was used in exchange for land in North Dublin and which was eventually publicly burned in Dublin in the 16th Century. The second relic was the "Book of Armagh" which I have already mentioned and the third was the Bell of Armagh.

This bell was lavishly enshrined by O'Neill the High King and the Abbot of Armagh and is now in the possession of the National Museum, Dublin”

The history of St Patrick is full of unknowns, half-truths, legend and hearsay. It is a casualty of centuries of religious writings and re-writings which have been used to great effect to make Patrick a 'brand name' for the varius elements of the Christian persuasion. In the end you believe what you want to believe and perhaps it's that that makes it all the more intriguing.

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If you would like to find out more about St Patrick, whether it's the Armagh or Down version, the links below should add even more intrigue to this most celebrated of all Saints.

The YPAM radio team went to Bradley's bar in Desertmartin for a special St Patrick's recording, watch the video..

A not too serious but 'factual' background on St. Patrick - BBC Legacies webpages

Entertaining facts, games and e-cards etc. are all here - BBC NI St.Patrick's day pages.

In depth background and history - The Saint Patrick's Centre, Downpatrick

Interested in seeing around Armagh? Armagh Guided Tours

The website of - Armagh District Council

Armagh City - Geographica.com

Want to know more about Navan Fort? Environment & Heritage webpages.

Where to go in Northern Ireland - Discover Northern Ireland Website

(The BBC is not responsible for content of external websites)

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