It's fair to say we aren't always aware of how lucky we are in Ireland. We're surrounded by towns and and villages so full of charm but the majority of us rarely appreciate them since it's what we've either grown up with or been used to. Cobbled streets and buildings centuries old are just on our doorstep, so why not shine a light on them?
I may live in Belfast but I'm an Armagh girl born and bred and it's only since I've lived away that I've learned to truly appreciate how beautiful it is. Although the town is technically a city, the population is only around 15,000 and growing up it had a small-town vibe; I knew most people when I walked through the streets and I always felt incredibly safe even when I was a teenager running amok.
Nowadays I'm an out-of-towner but I'm still proud of where I grew up. There is plenty on offer for any new visitor but in the town of the seven hills, you'd better bring decent shoes.
Here are a few reasons to get down to Armagh on your next free weekend...
Armagh is built on seven hills which can be hard on the old thighs but can give you wonderful views across the city and it's countryside. The most notable buildings are of course the two cathedrals which dominate the Armagh skyline like two aul men. Both cathedrals are named after St. Patrick (he was a popular man in these parts) however the older cathedral belongs to the Church of Ireland denomination and the younger is Roman Catholic. I adore both of these buildings for different reasons. The older dates back to 445 AD and has withstood monumental changes in Irish history - it even has a High King of Ireland buried in it's grounds! The younger cathedral dates back to the 19th century and is also special because my own family history is tied to it. My parents were married here, I was christened here, made my first Communion and Confirmation all in the same colossal space. It's gothic walls contain so many local memories within them and the intricate ceilings have my jaw hanging open every time.
St. Patrick's Cathdedral (The Older)
St. Patrick's Cathedral (The Younger)
Armagh is also know for it's Georgian architecture which can be best found around The Mall. The Mall is a public space with the Gaol on one end and the Court House on the other. Alongside it there are some beautiful Georgian houses as well as the Armagh County Museum - the oldest county museum in Ireland! Another example of some Georgian architecture is the local library found on Market Street where you can pick up a few spuds, a carpet and a bunch of flowers if the mood takes you.
Georgian House by The Mall - swish!
The Library on Market Street - a great place to people watch!
The Palace Demesne is another great place to explore especially during Autumn. The grounds are lined with trees that turn the most amazing colours around October and behind the palace itself are some gardens that many locals don't even know about. By the gates of the Palace you can find ruins of a Franciscan friary which is a great place to take some snaps before nipping to Friar Tuck's across the road (it's a fast food joint so don't get your hopes up).
The Palace from the Palace Gardens
Armagh was named after the ancient goddess Macha (the Gaelic translation of Armagh is "Ard Mhacha" or "Macha's Height") who appears in a few different Irish myths. My favourite story of Macha is when she appears as a wife to Cruinniuc who boasted at a chariot race that she could run faster than even the King's own horses. She begged him not to but she was forced to run despite her carrying twins. She won the race and gave birth on the finish line to Fir and Fial which means 'True' and 'Honest'. She then cursed the men of Ulster to suffer her labour pains in the hour of their greatest need. What a woman!
Armagh was also once the ancient capital of Ireland and you can actually witness a little piece of that history by visiting the Navan Fort, a ceremonial monument that was a royal site in Pre-Christian Ireland. There is a visitor centre here that has lots of information on the importance of this site and you can climb to the top and imagine yourself as a Gaelic warrior looking out over your lands. Or you can just take a wee photo for Instagram.
Me pretending to be an Irish warrior
View from the Navan Fort
For breakfast you can't beat a bagel and Armagh has the infamous Bagel Bean to ensure you start the day off well. Located on Lower English Street, this cosy café offers heaps of choice for bagels but if you ask me, the BC classic reigns supreme. They also serve some tasty smoothies too in case you need to wash it down with something nutritious.
There are more and more wee lunch spots popping up around Armagh including the Craic'd Pot which is an absolute gem. It's not like anything else in town and to top it all off it sometimes moonlights as a wine bar at night - hurrah! Other great places include Embers and Rumours that both serve hot food that will warm your tummy in the chilly weather. Mulberry is another wee gem that has great views of the Catholic cathedral and does a great brunch too.
If you find yourself in Armagh to catch a play or concert at the Market Place Theatre you will surely need to refuel beforehand. For a good steak then the Aussie restaurant Uluru won't disappoint or The Castle Tower both a stone's throw from the theatre for the wino's amongst you.
If you are a hallion like me and might still have room for something sweet after a day of eating then please head to Macari's for ice cream. The place is an institution in Armagh and I will forever have space for a tub of vanilla ice cream topped with melted marshmallow (insert pig emoji here).
Armagh is not short of pubs although there are a few that I would recommend more than some. Red Ned's is an establishment that is a regular for many in town. It's argued they serve the best pint of Guinness in Armagh and they have regular folk and traditional music in the corner to keep the spirits up.
The Hole in the Wall is another classic and has been voted Pub of the Year on numerous occasions. The pub is set in an old jail that dates back to 1615, hence the bars on the windows, and is steeped in history. The pub is said to be haunted but what should give you more of a fright is the pub's pet parrot, Casper, who will scare the bejaysus out of you when you come through the door!
The beauty of a small town is that you don't have to travel too far to find gorgeous scenery. There are a few beautiful locations close to town where you can shower the head with a good walk and see the county countryside at it's best. Since Armagh is the Orchard County of Ireland, I have to recommend a visit during the apple blossom season in May when the county's roadsides turn different shades of pink. Come again in September when the apples are ready for pickin' and you get some of the best weather of the year.
Some other great spaces are Gosford Forest Park or The Argory which is pictured below - no matter how many times I was dragged to this place for school trips I still love it.
Well that's Armagh in a nutshell. If you haven't had a dander around the streets of saints and scholars yet then I hope this post might give you a bit of encouragement to get in the car and make the trip. It will be well worth it, I promise!