Armagh is a city in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, with a population in 2011 of 14,700. It's regarded as the ecclesiastic capital of all Ireland by both Protestants and Roman Catholics. It's no longer a "county town" as there's no such unit of governance in Northern Ireland, but since 2015 it's formed part of the Armagh-Banbridge-Craigavon "super-district" covering the northern half of historic County Armagh.
Armagh was a religious and secular power centre even in pagan times. In 432 AD St Patrick literally capitalised on this tradition by building his first stone church here and declaring it to be the country's Christian capital. (Or at least, he did so in any history controlled by the Armagh church: earlier christianising missionaries elsewhere in Ireland were studiously ignored, so today they have local observances but don't get to stop the New York traffic with a big annual parade.) The site of that 5th century church is now Saint Patrick's Cathedral, the seat of the Church of Ireland (ie Protestant) Archbishop & Primate of All Ireland. Here as elsewhere, the Protestants ejected the Catholics from their churches, and forbade them to build anew. Only in the 19th century was that prohibition abolished, so on the neighbouring hilltop was built St Patrick's Roman Catholic Cathedral, the seat of the RC Archbishop & Primate of All Ireland.
The religious divide was exacerbated by the national divide: after the Irish partition Armagh found itself in Northern Ireland, but with a large population who were Catholic and supportive of the republican cause, and with a nearby porous border with the Republic. "The Troubles" of 1969-1998 were very bitter hereabouts, with 86 deaths, and the place became run-down as business and individuals took flight.
Armagh lost its city status in 1840 but this was restored in 1994 - it's ceremonial, and the place continues to feel like a medium-sized town. After "The Troubles" were calmed by the Good Friday Agreement, Belfast and Londonderry successfully relaunched themselves as lively destinations for travel and business, but Armagh hasn't yet done so. It's still worth visiting for itself and as a base for exploring the county.
Ulsterbus 72 runs every two hours between Dungannon and Armagh, 40 min.
Ulsterbus 40 runs every two hours between Newry and Armagh, one hour.
By car from Belfast and the ferry ports follow M1 west to Craigavon then A3 through Portadown. From Dublin follow M1 / N1 / A1 north across the border to Newry then A28 to Armagh.
Armagh is small enough to explore on foot. Ulsterbus 73 passes Navan fort on the road to Killylea and Caledon, but it's a sparse service.
- 1 St Patrick's Cathedral (Church of Ireland), 43 Abbey St BT61 7DY. Daily Apr-Oct 10:00-17:00, Nov-Mar 10:00-16:00. The first church on this site was in 445 and the present building is from the 13th C, but it's been wrecked and rebuilt no less than 17 times. What you see now is mostly from the 1830s / 40s. The body of Brian Boru, killed in victory at Clontarf in 1014, was taken to Swords then interred at Armagh: a slab on the exterior wall of the north transept denotes the spot. Adult £1.
- 2 St Patrick's Cathedral (Roman Catholic), 41 Cathedral Rd BT61 7QX. Built in Gothic Revival style between 1840 and 1904, the RC cathedral has an impressive interior, the mosaics and woodwork being especially pleasing. It's perched on a hillock and you approach via a grand exterior stairway. Free.
- 3 Franciscan Friary is a ruin just south of town centre. It was founded in 1263 but dissolved in 1542 by Henry VIII.
- 4 Armagh County Museum, The Mall East BT61 9BE. M-Sa 10:00-17:00. Display of local prehistory and history. Free.
- 5 Armagh Observatory and Planetarium, College Hill BT61 9DB, ☏ . This is closed for refurbishment in 2020.
- 6 Armagh Robinson Library, 43 Abbey St BT61 7DY. Closed through 2020. The oldest library in Northern Ireland, founded in 1771 by Archbishop Robinson. It has a rich collection of 17th- and 18th-century books, including Jonathan Swift's own copy of the first edition of his Gulliver's Travels with his manuscript corrections. Free, guided tours £3.
- Other notable buildings in town are the Gaol (primarily a women's prison, it closed in 1986), the Market House which is now a library, and the Archbishop's Palace, chapel and stables which are now council offices.
- 7 (Emain Macha), 81 Killylea Road BT60 4LD (two miles west of town centre). Apr May Sep Sa Su 10:00-17:00, Jun-Aug M-Sa 10:00-17:00, Su 12:00-17:00. There are neolithic and Bronze Age remnants here, but the main structure was built in 95 BC: a timber roundhouse 40 m in diameter, which was then packed with stones, set on fire and covered with earth to create the present mound. This seems to have been a religious sacrifice, not destruction of a defensive "fort". The small nearby roundhouse is a modern reconstruction. Other nearby sites are Haughey's Fort a Bronze Age ringfort, and King's Stables an artificial hollow that may have been used for washing horses and chariots. Adult £6.
- 8 Gosford Castle and Forest Park, Mullabrack Rd, Markethill BT60 2HP (6 miles south east of Armagh). 19th-century country house got up like a Norman castle; it fell into rack and ruin in the 20th C but in 2008 was converted to private dwellings. So you can't tour inside, the reason to come is for the extensive woods and parkland. Parking £5.
- Armagh Guided Tours, ☏ . Guided walks and coach tours of Armagh and surrounds, some start from Belfast.
- Omniplex Cinema is on Market Street.
- Market Place Theatre and Arts Centre is just behind the cinema, Box Office +44 28 3752 1821
- County Armagh Golf Club is at 7 Newry Rd, south edge of town.
- There are fitness and leisure centres at Armagh City Hotel, Orchard LC on Folly Lane, and Cathedral Rd.
- The big Orange Order Parade in Armagh is 12 July each year, but see the Parades Commission listing for smaller events throughout the year.
- The main shopping centre is The Mall. Sainsbury's here is open M-W Sa 08:00-20:00, Th F 08:00-21:00, Su 13:00-18:00.
- 1 Shapla Indian, 39 Lower English St BT61 7LJ, ☏ . Daily 16:00-23:30. It was doing well in early 2020, but has had a series of negative reviews since.
- There's a slew of other cheap eateries along English Street.
- Uluru Bar & Grill, 3 Market St BT61 7BX, ☏ . Th-Su 12:00-20:30. Brighty and breezy Australian place, with 160 places over two floors.
- Pubs along main drag include Red Ned's, Turner's (24 hours), Toni's, Mulberry and Hole in the Wall.
- 1 Armagh City Youth Hostel, 39 Abbey Street, BT61 7EB, ☏ . Modern youth hostel near the city centre with small dorms and six private rooms. It's normally open Mar-Oct 08:30-11:00 and 16:00-21:30, with lock-out between those hours. It's closed through the 2020 season.
- 2 Armagh City Hotel, Friary Road BT60 4FR, ☏ . A clean and comfortable hotel next to the Palace grounds, with a large conference centre. Some street noise in front-facing rooms. B&B double £90.
- 3 Charlemont Arms Hotel, Upper English St BT61 7LB, ☏ . Reliable mid-range hotel in town centre, with Victorian public areas but modern rooms. Has two restaurants, Dining Room and Bistro. B&B double £90.
Armagh has good mobile and 4G coverage from all UK carriers. As of Aug 2020, 5G has not reached this area.
If you venture near the border, take care that your mobile doesn't latch on to an Irish carrier, which may incur extra charges.
- Belfast is a great city destination, with lots to see and do.
- Cookstown has several nearby prehistoric sites, and the "Beetling Mill" where linen was given its fine finish.
- Newry won't detain you long, but it's on the route to Drogheda and Dublin.