A stronghold for the Kings of Ulster, Armagh City has strong historical roots that stretch back over hundreds and thousands of years ago. Conchobar mac Nessa would have held his seat at nearby Navan Fort but we’re told he was born in County Armagh and would have links to the area in the stories told of the Ulster Cycle.
Fondly known as the Orchard County, Armagh is one of Ireland’s smallest counties but what it lacks in size it certainly makes up for in history, culture and landscapes.
Spend at least a few hours in the city enjoying its beautiful Georgian architecture along The Mall.
Stop by the Armagh Public Library to spy the first edition of Gulliver’s Travels, complete with Jonathan Swift’s handwritten notes in the margins. You will also find the 17th and 18th-century books belonging to Archbishop Robinson.
As you wander further around the city, make sure to pay a visit to St Patrick’s Cathedral. St. Patrick is said to have attempted to convert several of the Irish kings who would have ruled over Ulster and other areas. St Patrick’s Cathedral is also the final resting place of Brian Boru. The Church of Ireland Cathedral is located on Sally Hill, the same place where St. Patrick is said to have built a stone church in 445.
Pay a visit to Armagh County Museum, the oldest county museum in Ireland and located along the tree-lined Mall. The museum gives a good insight into the people who lived, worked and had connections with Armagh, all reflecting Armagh’s leading role in early Christian Ireland.
Late afternoon, venture out to Armagh’s countryside to enjoy its vast landscape. If travelling in autumn, make sure to soak up the apple harvesting by taking a tour of the orchards and trying out some of the area’s best ciders.
End your day with a bite to eat in one of the country-style gastropubs lying on the outskirts of the city. Should you find yourself with lots of time and are keen to soak up more history, discover the fantastic site of The Hill of O’Neill in nearby Dungannon – a site that was once ruled over by the O’Neill clan and, today, provides panoramic views over the city and out to neighbouring counties.
Break up your journey from Armagh City to Downpatrick with a stop at Bagenal’s Castle in Newry. The castle is now a local history museum, where a set of robes from the order of St Patrick can be seen, as well as many other historical artefacts. A lot of the original castle has not survived but remnants are dotted throughout the building, including a 12th-century slab of granite bearing a Celtic cross that was salvaged and placed in a wall in adjoining McCann’s bakery.
As you travel on to Downpatrick, make sure to take in the magnificent Mourne Mountains that are passed along the way. If you’re feeling up to it and have time, a walk among The Mournes is recommended. The Bloody Bridge Walk is a less strenuous option but if you are up for the challenge then a walk to Slieve Donard, the highest mountain in Northern Ireland, will provide you with stunning views over the county, and beyond. You can drive through the mountains via the town of Hilltown, or drive the popular Mourne Coastal Route, allowing you to visit the popular coastal towns of Warrenpoint, Rostrevor and Newcastle as you go. With many great walking and cycling trails along the way, this is a truly stunning part of Northern Ireland. Next stop, the market town of Downpatrick.
In Downpatrick itself, the symbols and relics of Saint Patrick are littered throughout the town and very much pay tribute to Ireland’s Patron Saint Even the town’s name, which translates in Irish to Dún Pádraig, meaning “Patrick’s stronghold”, is a great ode to the saint. If the history of Ireland’s Patron Saint takes your interest then make sure to pay a visit to the Saint Patrick Centre, the only permanent exhibition in the world focusing on Saint Patrick. There is also Down Cathedral, the recognised burial place of St Patrick and is well worth a look.
Follow your journey into the world of Saint Patrick with a visit Down County Museum, where the rich heritage of County Down can be explored.
Finish your time in Downpatrick with a meal in one of the town’s restaurants before heading to bed for a well-earned rest!
County Down is brimming with epic landscape, incredible architecture and lots of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. The county is also now known for its long list of wonderful food and drink that is produced and sourced locally.
Start with a drive along the Ards Peninsula with views overlooking the stunning Strangford Lough. If you’re planning a trip to the town of Strangford, be sure to set aside time to explore Castle Ward, a property that has become famous in recent times due to its role as Winterfell in Game of Thrones®. With bike trails and walking routes along the banks of Strangford Lough, this is a great place to escape from it all for a few hours. Game of Thrones® fans can even get into character with a unique Game of Thrones® experience at Castle Ward.
Travel further along the Ards Peninsula to Grey Abbey to take a closer look at the incredible remains of the Cistercian Abbey church, which was founded in 1193 by Affreca wife of John de Courcy, the Anglo-Norman invader of East Ulster. Grey Abbey is said to be the best example of Anglo-Norman Cistercian architecture in Ulster.
Journey on to the popular seaside town of Bangor, situated on Belfast Lough and a short drive from Belfast City. Bangor Marina, Clandeboye Estate and the nearby Ulster Folk & Transport Museum are all popular attractions in the Bangor area.
There is then Bangor Abbey, founded by St Comgallin 558. It is said to have been one of the most important seats of learning in Ireland, with almost 3,000 monks at the time of Comgall’s death in 601AD. Two of its most famous students, Columbanus and Gall, travelled throughout Europe setting up monasteries in Luxeuil, Bobbio and Breganz. Artefacts from the monastery’s earliest period can be viewed in North Down Museum.
Finish with a delicious meal along Bangor’s seafront or in nearby Holywood, where the award-winning Noble restaurant lies.
Ireland's most famous king, Brian Boru ended the High Kingship in Ireland and famously defeated the Vikings at Clontarf.View timeline
Recognised as the 'Warrior Queen of Connacht', Maeve is one of Ireland's most iconic historical characters, and arguably the most famous Queen.View timeline
The ancestor of the famous Uí Néill dynasty, some 3 million Irish people are believed to be descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages.View timeline
The famous Pirate Queen, Grace O'Malley protected the west of Ireland from English attacks.View timeline
The Viking King of Dublin, Sitric was the son of Óláfr Sigtryggsson and Gormlaith.View timeline
The former wife of the great king Brian Boru, and mother to his rival, Sitric Silkbeard.View timeline
The King of Leinster, Dermot is responsible for the Anglo-Norman invasion and centuries of British Rule in Ireland.View timeline
Wife of Anglo-Norman warrior Strongbow, Aoife was the Princess of Leinster and daughter to King Dermot of Leinster.View timeline
A former King of Ulster, Conchobar was briefly married to Queen Maeve of Connacht.View timeline
Believed to be the first Queen of Ireland of foreign or non-Celtic lineage.View timeline
The last King of Ireland and son of Turlough O'Connor, King of Connacht.View timeline