Armagh may be the smallest county in Northern Ireland, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for with large dollops of personality...
You may know St Patrick founded his first church in Armagh. But did you know the county is also home to a planetarium? You may know Armagh is the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland. But did you know it’s also home to a first edition manuscript of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels … or the fast-growing sport of bog-snorkelling?
Yes, there will be surprises. Not least in south Armagh. It’s where the scenery is a big draw. Where ancient court cairns lurk amongst the landscape. Where you’ll find the 3,500-year-old Ballykeel dolmen. And where villages such as Crossmaglen draw crowds to the legendary traditional music sessions in its many lively pubs.
The city of Armagh itself is the primary seat in Ireland for both the Catholic and Protestant churches in Ireland. It’s the only city in the world with two cathedrals dedicated to the same saint: St Patrick is said to have founded his first church on the hilltop site of the present Church of Ireland Cathedral.
The County Museum and Navan Fort, meanwhile, turns back the clock even further, boasting a range of prehistoric artifacts and an ancient pagan ceremonial site.
The Orchard County
Each May, the countryside of Armagh comes alive with colour, as the county’s Apple Blossom Festival strikes up in celebration of the venerable Bramley apple. Six thousand acres of apple trees centre around Loughgall in the north of the county. William of Orange is even believed to have sent his cider maker here to quench his troops’ thirst before the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
Staying in the countryside, walkers will find a haven of pathways through Peatlands Park. Or, if you visit during the month of July, you’re welcome to join in with the National Bog Snorkelling Championships.
For avid anglers, Armagh offers great spots for casting off, including the Kinnego Marina and the Upper Bann River. Watersports enthusiasts can hit the Craigavon Lakes, or cyclists can break free of it all on the 20-mile, traffic-free Newry Canal Way.
If it’s a trip back in time you’re after, why not relive the Battle of Barossa – a key encounter in the Napoleonic Wars – at the Royal Irish Fusiliers Museum in the city of Armagh? Or visit another world entirely at the Armagh Planetarium Observatory and Astropark? At the Armagh Public Library, a collection of rare books includes a first edition of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, complete with annotations in the author and satirist’s own handwriting.
Finally, no trip to south Armagh is complete without a scenic drive around the slopes of Slieve Gullion. Follow the mountain top trail on this extinct volcano, and you could find yourself crawling into the burial chamber of the highest surviving passage tomb in the country!
We told you there’d be surprises…