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THE SAINT

Uncover the incredible life, times, and stunning beauty spots associated with one of the world’s most beloved saints, St Patrick

A lonely slave, a scourge of serpents, a champion of Christianity… Long before he became a saint, Patrick was a saviour. And in Northern Ireland, his footsteps can still be followed in many places.

Here, you can literally follow the saint’s trail and see history written in the stones. Close your eyes as you stand on the slopes of Slemish Mountain in County Antrim and be transported back to a time of fearsome Vikings, scholarly monks, and the dying days of pagan Ireland.

St Patrick really did leave his mark on Northern Ireland, and Northern Ireland has made sure to keep it there. Getting here is easy, so come and see for yourself.

On Saint Patrick’s Trail

Following in the footsteps of Ireland’s patron saint

Festivals worldwide are dedicated to him, he is steeped in myths and legends, and his use of the shamrock has gone down in history.
We look at the places and experiences that made Patrick the saint he is today.

Trying to pick a place that evokes the essential spirit of St Patrick is a tough call. Pilgrims from all over the world come to Ireland to trace his journey, unearthing the locations that helped make him a legend.

But it’s not just pilgrims that find the St Patrick story fascinating: anyone with a passing interest in history will be compelled by some of the must-sees along the Saint Patrick’s Trail through Northern Ireland. Take Bangor Abbey – founded in the 6th century by St Comgall – for instance. Back in the day, this was one of the key seats of learning in Ireland and home to an incredible 3,000 monks. It's no wonder it was known as the “Light of the World”.

In Armagh city, two cathedrals bear Patrick’s name: The Church of Ireland cathedral sits proudly on Sally Hill, with a superb view stretching for miles. On the opposite hill is the twin-spired Catholic St Patrick's Cathedral, guarded by two magnificent marble archbishops.

But Patrick’s passage through this historic land is marked by more than just ancient churches. It doesn’t take much imagination to cast yourself back to the 6th century and picture the difficult existence that Patrick, as a boy of 16, endured on the side of Slemish Mountain. Battered by the wind and rain, he toiled here as a slave tending sheep.

Or how about Strangford Lough? Today it's a haven for wildlife, but it’s believed Patrick sailed through here, to land just outside the town of Downpatrick.

For many, however, the essence of St Patrick lies in the simplicity of Saul Church, built in 1932. Back in 432AD, St Patrick established his first church in a simple barn on this very site. It was the beginning of a legacy that lasts till today, and has touched the lives of people worldwide.

Armagh

With two of its hills dominated by cathedrals, it's little surprise that Armagh is the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland. If you’re looking to get under the skin of St Patrick, this is the best place to start. St Patrick called the city “my sweet hill” and founded his first church here in 445AD. Armagh’s two cathedrals are dedicated to him, while in the Armagh County Museum, the Armagh Public Library and No.5 Vicar’s Hill, you’ll find fascinating material highlighting the city’s role in the history of Christian Ireland.

Slemish Mountain

There could be few places more redolent of the hardships St Patrick endured than Slemish. Rising to 1,500 feet, this mountain in County Antrim was where Patrick is thought to have worked as a slave tending sheep from the age of 16 to 22. On St Patrick’s Day, crowds undertake the short but steep walk to the summit, but you can visit at any time of the year and look out on scenery that is not too different from St Patrick’s time: the Antrim Hills, the coast of Northern Ireland and Scotland, and the Bann Valley.

Bangor Abbey

Bangor Abbey’s close proximity to the sea may ultimately have been its downfall, but before the Vikings raided this auspicious site, it was one of the most important seats of learning on the entire island. Founded by St Comgall in 558AD, the abbey swelled to house about 3,000 monks and was known for its learned and austere approach. Today, the abbey softly echoes the spirit of the past, and many precious artefacts from here are housed in the nearby North Down Museum.

Downpatrick

Downpatrick ensured its place in history back in 130AD, when Ptolemy included it in his list of towns in Ireland. But these days, it’s most famous for being the burial place of Ireland’s patron saint. This small, historic spot is located just an hour’s drive south of Belfast, and Down Cathedral is an integral location on the Saint Patrick’s Trail. Here, a Memorial Stone commemorates the saint and traditionally marks his grave. To really immerse yourself in the St Patrick story, make your way to The Saint Patrick Centre, where you can learn more about the man himself and the times he lived through.

 

St Patrick's Trail

Good to Know

  • Downpatrick is the main town in County Down, a county that boasts stunning attractions such as the Mourne Mountains, world-class golf courses, and the beauty of Strangford Lough.
  • St Patrick left his mark across Ireland, from the Rock of Cashel to Croagh Patrick.
  • The Saint Patrick Centre is located 2 hours north of Dublin, and 40 minutes south of Belfast. It is open from 9am to 5pm every day, and admission is $10 for adults; $5 for children; concessions $6.50
  • Downpatrick is also home to Inch Abbey, a Cistercian Abbey founded in 1180 with a beautiful location beside the River Quoile.
  • Roads in Northern Ireland are easy to follow and well signposted. Speed limits are listed as miles per hour.

St Patrick's Trail Itinerary

If you're thinking exploring in St Patrick's footsteps in Northern Ireland, we have a three-day itinerary covering the entire trail...

Itinerary

The intrigue doesn't end there. See what awaits you on the Causeway Coast.

Getting around

There are many ways of getting from a to b in Ireland, and we’ve got all the information you need.