Monday, 17 November 2014

Ireland 2014: Armagh

We started our Saturday morning visiting one of my uncles and enjoying a good Irish fry before we hopped on a bus and headed to Armagh, Northern Ireland. We had a hour in Monaghan while changing busses. Maybe it was the late night the night before or maybe it was the threatening rain clouds, but we decided to hunker down at the bus station and drink coffee instead of heading into town. Who am I kidding? I'm from the west coast of Canada. Of course, it wasn't the clouds.

On our bus ride out of town, I pointed out the places we went by that held memories for me. Visiting Monaghan is a strange experience as an adult. There's very little family here now so there's no real reason to visit, and it's definitely not a tourist destination so there's really no point in actually staying to 'see the sights', but so many of my memories of Ireland are wrapped up in this town. It's the county I support first and foremost in the GAA but the need to visit it as I get older is waning.

We arrived in Armagh and headed to my uncle's house. The city had hosted the start of the second leg of the Giro d'Italia the weekend before and everywhere you turned, hot pink bicycles and signs caught your eye. Some companies had even gone so far as to paint their buildings.

I'm often surprised that Armagh isn't more of a tourist destination. I know that Northern Ireland in general stayed off the tourist trail for a number of years because of the Troubles, but now that the number of visitors is increasing every year, I'm surprised how little the guidebooks talk about Armagh. It's the ecclesiastical centre for both the Church of Ireland and the Irish Catholic Church, it has two beautiful cathedrals built on opposite hills, it was one of the old seats of the Irish kings, it's where St. Patrick set up shop (hence why it is the ecclesiastical centre), and it's where Brian Boru, the last high king of Ireland, is buried.

Looking from the Catholic Cathedral to the Anglican one

We actually spent our first day 'in Armagh' day tripping back to the south as my aunt had an appointment in Drogheda (Draw-ha-da). While she did her thing, we visited Oliver Plunkett's head. Plunkett was a Catholic priest who was executed in 1681. After two acquittals by Protestant juries in Ireland, his trial was moved to England where he was found guilty and executed.

It's hard to get a good picture through so much glass but that's a head in there.

Drogheda is also famous for being the city closest to the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 and for bearing the brunt of Oliver Cromwell's wrath during his tour of Ireland from 1649 - 1953. If you don't get the sarcasm, Cromwell was a dick to the Irish. For such a small town, it sure has seen some important events!

We drove up the coast to Dundalk to visit another aunt and uncle before stopping for a little shopping at the mall. Of course, the fact that the Co. Tyrone vs. Co. Down Gaelic football match was playing on every TV in the mall had nothing to do with why we stopped. Nope. Nothing at all.

Co Monaghan was to play the winner so the outcome was important!

We returned to Armagh and had a quiet night at home.

Who am I kidding? It was our last night actually with my aunt and uncle (they were heading off on holidays a few days after we left so we skipped out the last night to give them a chance to pack bags, etc) so my cousin and his girlfriend came around and we had a good send off.

After a late start the next day (I have no idea why we had a late start...), we packed ourselves off to the hostel and then headed out to be tourists. The hostel is just behind the Church of Ireland Cathedral so we wandered over there first.

April 2014 marked 1000 years since Brian Boru's death. No one is sure exactly where on the church grounds his heart was buried, just that it was 'on the north side of the church'. In honour of the 1000 anniversary, a wreath had been laid at the plaque. Not surprisingly, a month of laying outside had left the wreath looking a little... dead. I was actually a bit surprised no one had picked it up.

We headed inside the cathedral where we befriended the doorman. Our friendly banter lead to him quoting an entry price which was less than what the post sign right next to him said. Befriending doormen is a very important tourist skill to have!

Most of the large cathedrals have TV monitors and speakers so
everyone can see and hear the service.

Also, Katie learned why you really can't take me anywhere.

I imagine he's judging the wardrobe of everyone who's attending mass.
"Those shoes? with that dress?!?"

Can't leave a statue hanging!

We stopped being tourists long enough to grab a bite to eat and visit with my two step-aunts who live near Armagh. We hit up the carvery at the Armagh City Hotel - I really wish we had more proper carveries in North America - and caught up on all the family gossip.

What better way to work off lunch than walking back across town and up the hill to the Catholic Cathedral?

Every time I see this hill, all I can think is how much fun
it would be to roll down it.

The cathedral was started in 1840 but wasn't completed until 1904. The building was delayed, in part, because of the famine. It was also in part because the entire inside of the cathedral is done in mosaic.

Floor. Wall. ALL mosaic!

The mosaic work continues all the way up to the roof.
It is incredible to actually see up close.

I've seen a lot of churches, cathedrals, minsters, and holy houses in my travels and this Cathedral is one of my favourites.

After a couple of late nights in a row, we decided to grab a bite from the local grocery store - I love you McInerny's - and have a quiet night in. The nice thing about being the only people in the hostel that weekend? Full control of the TV. I hadn't seen Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves in probably 20 years. It hasn't aged well.

My only regret from this trip to Armagh? I didn't buy these flip-flops.

The next morning, we hopped the bus to Donegal Town.

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