Conchobar mac Nessa'S TRAIL
A stronghold for the Kings of Ulster, Armagh City has strong historical roots that stretch back over hundreds and thousands of years ago. Although Conchobar mac Nessa would have held his seat at nearby Navan Fort, we’re told he was born in County Armagh and would have links to the area in the stories told in 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 then 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, located along the tree-lined Mall. The museum gives a good insight into the people who lived, worked and had connections with Armagh as far back as early Christian Ireland.
Come 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 sampling 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 wonderful panoramic views over the city and 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 to Downpatrick, make sure to take in the magnificent Mourne Mountains that are passed along the way. If you’re feeling up to it, a walk among The Mournes is recommended, with moderate trails like Bloody Bridge Walk providing a less strenuous option. For those up for the challenge, a hike to the top of Slieve Donard, the highest mountain in Northern Ireland, will provide you with stunning views out over the county, and beyond. You can drive through the mountains via the town of Hilltown, or along the popular Mourne Coastal Route, passing through popular coastal towns like Warrenpoint, Rostrevor and Newcastle along the way.
As you leave the Mournes and arrive in Downpatrick, you will be greeted by the symbols and relics of Saint Patrick which are displayed throughout the town. The name Downpatrick itself translates from the Irish Dún Pádraig to“Patrick’s stronghold”. 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.
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 to soak up views over 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 for its setting as the location of Winterfell in HBO’s Game of Thrones®series.
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 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 great attractions to visit in the area.
There is also 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.