From enigmatic paintings to festival-filled summer nights, Armagh city's treasures are anything but hidden
1. Touch Ireland’s largest meteorite
Displayed in all its nickel iron glory at the Armagh Planetarium is the largest meteorite in Ireland, an astonishing 4.5 billion years old and weighing 24 stone. The administrator Neil Cullen says visitors love feeling its texture: “It is smooth, metallic and very cold, and is certainly the oldest thing they will ever touch.”
Exhibition halls hold a spaceship and satellite models, while activities for children include building and launching rockets, flying the cosmos, or taking part in a magnetism workshop.
2. Climb the hill in the footsteps of St Patrick
Armagh’s two most distinctive landmarks are its cathedrals, which face each other from their seats on opposite hills and which locals say are “whispering” to one another. The Gothic-style St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral was built in the early 19th century, and is on a hill called Ard Mhacha (where Armagh takes its name). This is where St Patrick is reputed to have built his church in 445AD.
And that’s not all: Brian Boru, the famous High King of All Ireland who visited Armagh in 1004, is buried here. Across a valley, dominating the opposite end of Armagh, rises the pale limestone St Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral, completed in 1873. Walk up the seven flights of steps and pause to look at the arcade of statues over the main doorway on the exterior.
3. Rewind 200 years with the arty side of Armagh
Want to connect with 18th-century Armagh? Then nip into the Armagh County Museum – the oldest county museum in Ireland – and seek out James Black’s colourful oil painting City of Armagh. Created in 1810, it conjures up an instant feel for the layout of the connecting streets and countryside.
4. See out gargoyles and angels
They’re well camouflaged, but look carefully and you’ll find secret gargoyles, chimeras and angels, which were created as a response to the city’s sacred architecture. No fewer than 22 intricate bronze sculptures, made by a Cork artist in 2010, are dotted around the streets continuing a 4,000-year old tradition. Pick up a leaflet from the Armagh tourist office to find out more about this teasingly mysterious and humorous side to street life.
5. Discover the city’s musical side
Music plays a huge part in the life of Armagh. Each August, the Charles Wood Summer School for singers and organists sets up shop in the main churches. It’s a great way to watch concerts and absorb choral music in serene surroundings. Other entertaining events throughout the year are the Tommy Makem International Festival of Song and the fun-filled Bard of Armagh singing competition, while brass band and piping festivals also get in on the act.