Why About Armagh?

www.aboutarmagh.com a great guide to local archaeology, folklore, history, etc...

A Long Road Home to Discover "About Armagh"

It’s said an Irishman’s home is the road, so for every step we thread, may the road rise up in front of us.

It has been often said, it’s more difficult to take an Irishman out of Ireland than it is to take Ireland out of an Irishman.

Many years ago, this is how I felt having just finished school and with the rest of my life to look forward to. I had lived in Ireland up to then and ventured almost nowhere. Earlier in life I had two scares. At seven years old I was suffering with an unknown and unbearable pain in my stomach and was given the "Last Rights" by a local priest. Later that day my appendix burst as I entered the operation theatre of a Belfast hospital. Then, at 16, two day before my O-levels started, I was thrown out of a rolling car at speed and knocked unconscious.

Contact Details: info@aboutarmagh.com or seangbw@gmail.com  

Most reading this will have no recollection of the 1980s. If you did, you wouldn’t have been able to write about it on social media, or use your mobile to discuss it with friends at the time. Though all was not bad. You could have learned to solve “Rubik’s Cube” or brushed the hair of “My Little Pony”. By 1982 you even had a choice of four TV channels (BBC1, BBC2, ITV & Channel 4). If people were happier or not then, I can’t say, but I guess they did talk more to each other and spend less time scrolling up and down on their mobile, trying to find something they didn’t know they were looking for.

As for me, I remember the 1980s, plus everything then and since, as if it was only yesterday.

In 1980 I sat my A-levels and gain entry to a university in London. I was 18 years old and like many Irish before me, I was on my way to live in another country. However, unlike most, my journey was by choice and not through necessity. Up to that point I had spent all of my life in Ireland and I wanted to see more..

My school was the CBS Grammar School in Armagh City and in most cases at the time, people could tell your religion by knowing your school. My A-level subjects were all in Mathematics and Science. These were what I just happened to be good at then. I was completely useless at reading long sentences and books, but numbers were small words to me. I also loved reading maps and studying Geography, but it proved too difficult for my school to add the subject to my already large number of A-levels.

The Irish are a rare breed. Through circumstance we have become travellers, the road is our home and we have learned to live with it.

Before the “Great Hunger” (the Potato Famine) of the mid-19th century over 8 million lived in Ireland. Through death and forced migration this number more than halved and has yet not fully grown back to the original figure. In the meantime, it is estimated around 90 million people throughout the world claim to be Irish or of Irish descent.

The contribution these people and their ancestors have made to the countries they fled to is immense and usually well documented. The Irish are the builders, the law-makers, the teachers, the scholars, the peacemakers and the foundations on which many great countries have been built.

The effects of the famine are greatly recorded throughout Ireland, and although County Armagh was one of the least affected, the famine still left it scars. These included the deaths at the Union Workhouses of Lurgan, Newry and Armagh – 95 in one week alone at Lurgan; the tragedy of the coffin ship Hannah which sailed out of Newry on 3 April 1849 with 176 passengers, the great majority from the Parish of Forkill - it hit an ice-berg resulting in 49 deaths and failed to reach its destiny at Quebec, plus there's the reminder left by the famine walls on Slieve Gullion, to mention just a few.

It’s not that there wasn’t enough food at the time. It’s just that rich landowners coveted their profits more that the welfare of the starving people.

However, things eventually improved. By 1961, less people would leave than return and by 1980, when I left Ireland for London, the population had recovered to 5 million and has increased gradually ever since.

Ireland today is a much-changed country from those dark days and its people, although still not always agreeing with each other, have taken charge of their destiny. The economy is buoyant and there is much hope in the air.

As for myself, 27 September 1980, I was on a plane from Belfast International Airport to London Heathrow.  The plane was a Hawker Siddeley Trident. My flight cost £20 for what was termed a “standby ticket” – however, the ticket did guarantee a seat. Eight years earlier, an identical plane fell out of the sky two minutes after take-off from Heathrow and crashed on Staines Moor. All 118 on-board were killed.

The accident became known as the Staines Air Disaster, and was the worst air disaster in Britain until the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. The crash was also the first aviation disaster to occur in the United Kingdom involving the loss of more than 100 lives.

Among those killed were 12 senior businessmen from the Republic of Ireland, including the head of the Confederation of Irish Industry, enroute to Brussels for meetings preparatory to Ireland's accession to the European Economic Community - a referendum approving Ireland's entry had been passed in May.

Many years later (c2010), when I worked just a few hundred yards from the crash site, I would write about it on a website entitled “Staines Historical Walks” (you can read more on this at https://sites.google.com/site/staineshistoricalwalks/home/staines-history-walk-part-3).

My plan, after arrival at Heathrow was to get the Piccadilly Line to Gloucester Road, exit the underground station, turn right, turn right again then first right along Gloucester Road and arrive at my university hall of residence ten minutes later.

What appeared on the ground didn’t match the map and the ten-minute walk turned into a two-minute black cab ride.

Although this was Central London, living at university was like living in a bubble, you could choose what to let in and what to not. Whether it be a night out in the West End, Irish music in a local pub, a visit to the countryside for a walk and fresh air, or just lying low to catch up on some study.

My planned three years stay turned into seven, after changing subject, taking a sabbatical to help run the students’ union and an addition two years working at the university. By now I was 25 years old and married.

For the next few years, my wife Cathy and I would move west through London and Surrey. From South Kensington to Earls Court, Fulham, Hammersmith, Chiswick, Richmond, Twickenham and Kingston. Often when we moved out of an address our deposit was not returned. It was as if most landlords felt it was their right to steal what wasn’t theirs. Although, at that time, just like now, tenants had and still have few rights.

It was only after we moved into a town house in Twickenham, which we shared with my sister and her husband, with a very pleasant Irish Landlady, that it felt we stopped getting treated as a cash cow. The landlady was also owner of a popular local rugby pub named Twickers.

My sister had recently given up an accountancy job in the city to take up hairdressing and also taught Irish dancing at the local church hall. My brother-in-law worked as a tailor in Savile Row and as a musician. The job may sound posh, but tailors in Savile Row usually worked in cramped, stuffy sweat shops below the ground.

The Saville Row setup made me think about a few things from earlier in life and how the Irish are known as having the "gift of the gab" and are great at telling and exaggerating stories - I suppose this is why many others enjoy the company of the Irish. For example, my mother once told me a local man had got a job as the head chef in the top hotel in London, when he actually got a job chopping up vegetables and washing dishes. Also, the verse below, from the Irish song The Mountains of Mourne, makes a police/traffic warden sound like he's the most powerful man in London. At the end of the day, it's down to how we all perceive things and what we enjoy.

"You remember young Diddy McClaren, of course

Well he's over here with the

Rest of the force

I saw him one day as he stood on the Strand

Stopped all the traffic with a

Wave of his hand

And as we were talking of days that are gone

The whole town of London stood

There to look on

But for all his great powers

He's wishful like me

To be back where the dark Mourne

Sweeps down to the sea."

It was whilst living in Twickenham we decided to take up running. Little did I know this decision would have a major effect on the rest of my life.

It took a while for my wife and I to get into the swing of things, but we did and joined a local running club. I enjoyed my new found sport and got more involved. My enthusiasm was noticed and within a couple of years I took on the role of men's captain. As I was relatively new to the sport, I was known by and knew very few from the running community. However, this would soon change.    

Around this time we bought a one-bedroom flat and moved to nearby Hampton Wick. My sister and her husband remained in Twickenham for a short time, but then moved back to Armagh and bought a house there.

It wasn't long until we were expecting our first daughter. Emma, was born in 1992 and soon afterwards we moved to a larger house in Long Ditton, on the north-east edge of Surrey and bordering on London. I was working in Kingston-upon-Thames, my wife in Chessington. We were fortunate as she had a subsidised staff nursery for Emma at her work.

In 1994 one of the members of my local running club, The Stragglers, suggested we organise a relay race around London’s Green Belt. It was just two years after the completion of the M25 and the building of the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge over the River Thames at Dartford, I got involved as I had learned about the Green Belt at school, loved reading maps, and had enjoyed taking part in similar races in Wales and Norfolk.

A Metropolitan Green Belt to protect the countryside around London had been on the agenda for a long time. After the passing of the Green Belt Act of 1938, it took 14 years for the elected local authorities responsible for the area to define this on scaled maps with some precision. Following the establishment of London’s Green Belt, authorities of other large towns were similarly encouraged in 1955 to designate their own belts of undeveloped land.

The plan for the relay was to create a 200 mile route of 20 stages and varying lengths in a clockwise scenic and mainly off-road route around London. We had about ten people involved and a few others also happy to help. However, things didn’t progress with any speed, so I decided to take the lead. By July 1995 we had a useable route and six teams willing to participate. I help regular meetings with team captains in the run up to the relay. The route was complicated, so for safety reasons I decided to allocate a few marshal/water points to each team. This was a first and it went down like a lead balloon, but it worked, is still used today, and was just the start of many new things I introduced over the years. The inaugural race didn’t always go to plan, but we had an event. We also learned a great deal from this, and both my wife and I won stages.

Start of first Green Belt Relay 1995.

My oldest daughter is the toddler on the left, I am in the red shorts.

The following year saw 14 teams take part on a much-improved course, plus the arrival of my second daughter, Clare. I did spend a huge amount of time improving the route and had many willing volunteers, from all corners of the UK and Ireland, but mainly from my own running club.

Our club was larger than average, and we had a few half-decent runners, so we decided to have a crack at winning the event. We were successful and I won my stage on Saturday and possibly due to overdoing the celebration that evening, managed only second on the Sunday.

1996 winning team - I am second from the right.

1996 would also turn out to be a year not to celebrate. It would see the break-up of my marriage, my lifestyle changed, I put on weight, gradually stopped running and the following year would be my last to compete in the relay.

I made some new friends, but at times locked myself away, but continued to put a lot of my spare time into the relay. It became more popular and teams from all over the south-east of England and further afield were soon taking part.

The pace of the race was decided by the fastest runners on a stage. Each stage was timed to start as soon as the first runner on the previous stage finished. It was like an outstretched carnival moving at an average speed of 10 miles per hour around the M25.

Most of the route was marked by myself on the day before and then just ahead of the runners, though I didn't always manage to stay ahead. It was a no-brainer for me to mark as I was the only one who knew the whole route. However, as the years went by, the number of others who helped with this increased. Some of these were members of my own club, some members of other clubs, some were just acquaintances, and some organised events in areas we passed through, such as two Irish guys who organised the Essex Way Relay. I was grateful for all the help we could get.

In 1999 what seemed to be a harmless rule resulted in the winning team being relegated to second place. I tried to reverse this but was unsuccessful. Soon afterwards, I threw out the "rule book", kept the bare minimum, and left the rest to the discretion of a meeting with the team captains at the finish. This would pay huge dividends and other events, with the same ethos, started to do the same and reduce the number of rules. It taught me not to over complicate things, that some things in life are more important than others and, if you get the small things right, then the larger picture looks after itself.

As the relay grew, the standard of the runners and format of the teams became more was varied. Competitors included internationals such as Ireland's Sonia O’Sullivan and London Marathon winner Hugh Jones (he ran many times and said this is one of his favourite events), whilst at the back were teams in fancy dress running to raise money for their charities. The popularity, comradery, team building and friendliness of the event was first class. I was obviously doing something right.

Presenting Sonia O'Sullivan with the prize for best individual run in 2007. Her two children, Ciara and Sophie are watching on from below. She ran & won 6 stages between 2005 & 2008

Our Lady of Mount Carmel & Saint George RC Church, Enfield, with the Toilet Seat (it is engraved "Bring up the Rear"). They ran dressed as nuns and raised £70 k for John Bosco children's holiday project over the years.

In 2006, I decided to have a major overhaul, by increasing the number of stages to 22, this extended the distance to 220 miles and made it the longest two-day relay in the UK. It was also more scenic, putting almost all of the route off-road, along forest trails, river towpaths, waymarked paths, through National Trust properties, nature reserves, etc.

Due to the beautiful scenery and the history associated with the route, I also decided to create a long-distance footpath on a similar route and produce a separate walk website. The result was a 238.4 miles circular path starting and finishing at Hampton Court Palace, plus an additional 4-mile bus journey to cross the Queen Elizabeth II bridge at Dartford. The route consists of 22 stages varying from 6.75 to 15.15 miles. This whole project took me many years to complete, and I sometimes have to still make changes, but I'm very happy with the result.

My journey in creating, organising, and taking part in the Green Belt Relay and the Green Belt Way was one of the most enjoyable in my life. I loved the story, being able to share it with others, the friends I made and the company of those who did this journey with me. Also, having both my children involved throughout and taking them out in all weathers for picnics and to educate them about the beauty, the joys, the history and nature of the countryside was a bonus for me and a learning curve for them.

Old graveyard and graves of famous people around the route, such as those of Margaret Love Peacock at Old Shepperton, Benjamin Disraeli at Hughenden Manor and Peter Labelliere on top of Box Hill, were popular with all three of us. This would continue when I returned to Ireland and discovered there were many old interesting graveyards near my home, most of which are well cared for by the local council.

Millennium Group looking pleased with their Veteran's Team Prize, "The Walking Stick".

By 2012, after having organised the event 17 times over 18 years (the relay had to be cancelled in 2001 due to foot-and-mouth disease), I decided it was time to pass the reigns of Green Belt Relay over to others. Between 2014 and 2023 a close friend and his wife have organised the event eight times, maintained the original ethos of the race, but added their own personal touches and have increased the number of teams to over 50 each year.

Two people who stayed with the event for every year, I was involved, deserve a mention. Dr Mike Hutchings: artist and historian, came up with an original route to work from; went out with me and on his own to recce the route; drew the artwork for the first T-shirt; educated me about the history of places we passed through; ran the event in his 80s and was still involved in his 90s. He died in 2020 aged 101. Lynda Pile managed the timekeepers, ordered the T-shirts, bought the sawdust, drove me around almost every year to mark the route and soon learned to help change and mark some of the route herself. In recognition of the work the three of us put in, the prize for best age-graded run is the Mike Hutchings Award (a watercolour, by himself, of the oldest tree on Nation Trust land), the first "mixed team" is named the Lynda Shield and that for the first "men's team" the Davis Cup.

Mike Hutchings presenting a copy of his Ankerwycke Yew watercolour (award) to the oldest runner.

The Ankerwycke Yew at Runnymede. c2,500 years old. The oldest tree on National Trust Land.

A special word for Jim Desmond: he put together winning teams in 2003 and 2006, made up of runners from many clubs with the aim of promoting the relay to a wider audience, one team was from Bushy Park Time Trial, the forerunner of the now global sensation parkrun; helped me to implement the major overhaul of 2006; set up the relay website and showed me how to maintain it; became and remains my chief advisor, but can be my chief critic if I get it wrong. He has family connections in the Newry area and advises me on and helps to promote this website. I have learned a lot from him.

1995 T-shirt from the "Inaugural Run".

2012 - T-shirt. My last year as Race Director.

2012 T-shirt - logo showing the changeover points.

Whilst still living in England, I also compiled two other walk websites: The Freedom Trail, a 64 mile “Walk through History along the Thames Valley to commemorate 800 years of the sealing of Magna Carta” (read more at https://sites.google.com/site/thefreedomtrails/home), plus a number of walks around Dorney Island taking in the Thames Path, Jubilee River and Dorney Lake, venue for the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics flat water rowing and canoeing events  (see more at https://sites.google.com/view/dorney-island-loop/home).

You can visit the websites for the Green Belt Relay at www.greenbeltrelay.org.uk and the London Green Belt Way at www.greenbeltrelay.org.uk/green_belt_way.htm. Also, see the entry for the London Green Belt Way on Long Distance Walkers Association at https://ldwa.org.uk/ldp/members/show_path.php?path_name=London+Green+Belt+Way.

I have been told I was not wise to have spent so much time on these projects. However, I look on this as time well-spent and hopefully I have created something for others to enjoy in future. Also, the experience I gained in doing this would later help me with similar projects on my return to Ireland.

In 2015, thirty-five years after I left Ireland, I returned to live in County Armagh. My two daughters were now young adults and both working hard to further themselves in life. My village, Keady, had grown greatly due to many new housing developments, but for some reason the population remained at 3,000.

Soon, after returning, I started walking again and was lucky to have some good park trails near my home. After, what seemed like a lot of hard work, my fitness improved and my weight began to reduce. I began to jog a few yards at a time. Eventually, I built up to walk 12 miles, or run 10 in one go, and at my best was averaging a total of distance of over 50 miles per week. However, my running was almost as slow as my walking, but It was great to just get out again and enjoy the freshness and scenery of the countryside.

In late 2019, when my father got ill and needed constant support, it was difficult for me to continue with the exercise, so  I gave it up and, since then I've never really got back into it.

It was also after I returned, I took an interest in and started to research places local to me. The more I read, the more I realised how little I knew about the history and culture associated with the area where I grew up. However, this was no surprise, as when I think back to my school days of the 1970s, the books we read were English Literature, the history was mainly English and the geography was mostly that of the UK and the world.

Whilst researching my local area I came across two great websites which list and provide much information on local archaeology, industry, people, buildings, battles and even folklore:

1. www.communities-ni.gov.uk/services/historic-environment-map-viewer for Northern Ireland.

2. https://archaeology.ie for Republic of Ireland.

There are many versions of detailed maps on both websites, dating back as far as the 1830s, and lots of useful information and tools linked to these.

I began to collect information on County Armagh and surrounding areas, but with no real sense of how I would use it. However, as I have always loved studying maps and had recently developed an interest in archaeology, history and folklore, I found the journey to be an enjoyable and a personal one.

I collected details on thousands of places all over the nine counties of Ulster and a few adjoining. These I saved by adding points to the relevant places on Google Maps.

I soon decided it would be worthwhile to create a local historic walk, similar to those I had already compiled in England.

On a scenic drive around my local area, below the railway viaduct and next to Dundrum Road at Tassagh, I came across a "Beetlers' Trail" information board. This is a partly waymarked 8.6-mile rural walk around Keady, Tassagh and Granemore. The write-up promotes some local history and remembers the importance to the linen industry in the area (see a map I drew of the Beetlers' Trail at www.mapmywalk.com/routes/view/777907959). I searched the Internet to try and find out more, but there wasn't much. However, the information on the board proved very useful and gave me some ideas from which to develop a walk.

"Beetlers' Trail" Info. Board at Tassagh Viaduct - click to enlarge and read.

The "Beetlers' Trail" route passed Keady Mill, the Tassagh Mills, Dundrum Mills and Tullyglush Mill, but it didn't pass the larger mills, factories and bleaching fields at Lower Darkley, Linen Vale, Darkley and Annvale, plus some of the mills along the Callan and Clea rivers. I felt it would be good if I could include them all.

I began researching the countryside around Keady and soon realised there was much to see. The hills, the lakes, the rivers (Callan and Clea) which powered the mills, the ancient ringforts and enclosures, the Aughnagurgan Megalithic Tombs, Tassagh Old Graveyard, the glens at Keady and Annvale, the trails thru' Darkley Forest, etc.

I searched the Internet to find out about walking in Northern Ireland. However, everything was very general and vague, unlike England where there is a right to roam, and every public footpath is mapped and maintained by local councils who make all of the records available online.

At the forefront of my mind, was to produce as safe a route as possible. The result was a scenic, historic and hopefully safe, 21 to 27 mile, walk I named "The Keady Hills, Lakes, Rivers and Mills Walk".

The walk starts and finishes at the Tommy Makem Arts & Community Centre in Keady and is divided into three parts. The first two end at bus stops, and from each there’s just a 5-minute bus ride back to Keady.

The three stages are:

1.  Keady to Tassagh Bridge (via Keady Glen, Annvale, Roughan Fort & Tassagh Viaduct)   7.7 miles (and up to 8.35 miles).

2.  Tassagh Bridge to Darkley (via Darkley Forest & Tullynawood Lake)    6.15 miles (and up to 11.2 miles).

3.  Darkley to Keady (via lakes, Clay Road and Keady Village)    6.9 miles.

Visit https://sites.google.com/view/keadywalk/home for instructions and to read more about the walk. I hope you enjoy and maybe even walk the route someday.

I have not fully finished with this walk yet, as I plan to complete a risk assessment of the route. I will send a copy of this to the local council to see if they will add a few extra safety measures and waymark the route.

Darkley Mill Information Board - enlarge to read.

Whilst researching the walk around Keady, I came across two papers about an old poem from the Book of Leinster (published 1160). The papers were compiled by the County Louth Archaeological and History Society (CLAHS), one from 1932 and the second from 1933. The poem, entitled “An Ancient Poet’s View from Sliabh Fuaid”, is about the poet sitting on a high place and reciting some of the things he can see. The two papers were an attempt, by CLAHS, to work out where the poet was. However, after many years and lots of effort, they didn't succeed.

I decided I would have an attempt to try to solve this problem myself - you can read my findings at https://sites.google.com/view/sliabhfuaid. These show the poem was more about recounting a version of the History of Ireland and the Irish People according to The Book of Invasions, up to the coming of the Gaels, the arrival of Christianity and beyond. The poem, although very old, is probably one of the most incredible pieces of literature ever written.

The first place easily identifiable in the poem is “the Grave of Nemed’s Wife”, which refers to Queen Macha, who is said to be buried under the high hill at Armagh and gives her name to the city (there is a twist). According to the Book of Invasions, Nemed’s people were descended from Moses and were the third people to come to Ireland.

Before I found the Sliabh Fuaid poem, I knew almost nothing about Irish Mythology, Folklore or Ancient Irish History. However, after doing so, I learned so much in such a short period of time and found it all truly amazing. I only wish I had have found all of this much earlier in life.

Macha places a curse on the Men of Ulaid.

The Ard Macha Mural in Culdee Close, Armagh.

The Coming of the Sons of Miled, illustration by Stephen Reid (1910).

In 2021, Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council bid to become "UK City of Culture 2025". A record twenty bids were submitted from various cities and regions across the UK. On 8 October 2021, eight bids were longlisted, including Armagh’s. However, the Armagh bid failed to make a shortlist of four, the eventual winner was Bradford, West Yorkshire. Yet, by reaching the last eight, especially when paired with Banbridge and Craigavon, it made me give Armagh City a lot more thought.

Armagh City is the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland and where St. Patrick founded his main church. At nearby Navan Fort (Irish: Emain Macha) there is evidence of activity in the Neolithic (c. 4000 to 2500 BC). In the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology, Emain Macha was the royal capital of the Ulaidh, the people who gave their name to the province of Ulster. It was pagan ritual site and the residence of King Conchobar mac Nessa. He was said to have had a training school here for his Red Branch Knights, whose numbers included the great boy warrior Cú Chulainn.

Armagh is one of the oldest and is smallest city in Ireland, County Armagh is 6th smallest county in Ireland. Both are blessed with archaeology, architecture, culture, history, mythology, religion, scenery and much more – there’s probably none other more so, in all of Ireland. There's much to see here: the ancient monuments: the last bastion of Irish language and nobility; the Gaelic poets; the scenery and unique geology of the Ring of Gullion; the low apple plains of the north; the deep dykes and duns which protect from invaders and cattle rustlers; the stories from mythology and folklore, the tradition of music passed down through generations; the appropriately chosen names of Ireland’s unique townlands, and much more.

Navan Fort - Emain Macha and the Ulster Cycle Information Board.

So far, we have a walk around the history and countryside of my local village, Keady. We have had a monk, on a hill, reciting a poem and trying to confuse us as to his exact position. However, the more I read about Armagh, the more I want to tell the Story of Ireland and the Irish People through their connections to the Story of Armagh.

Through my ramblings above, I got an idea of where I could take this project. I thought, if a poet can sit on top of a hill, 900 years ago, and tell the history of the Irish People through describing a few places; then surely, I can tell the Story of Ireland through its most historical city and county.

As you'll see from some of the points on the maps, at times, I often found myself crossing the boundary into neighbouring counties to research and collect information which I thought relevant to this story.

Although I took many photos and videos, the project was too large to do everything myself. Luckily, there's lots of relevant material publicly available on the Internet, such as photos, songs, videos, informative websites, etc. Of these, I have tried to include the best I could find.

The website I eventually compiled can be viewed at www.aboutarmagh.com. This contains eight maps of detailed information points. The "base map" has over 2,100 points - all the points which I have plotted. Due to the large number, I have divided this into seven sections, each with its own map. These are Archaeology, Battles, Do & See, Folklore & Stories, Religious Sites, Stay and Walks. The “Walk’s Section” also contains two additional sections, 1. The Robinson Trail - a 4 mile walk around Armagh's historical sites, including those built by Church of Ireland Archbishop, Richard Robinson, 1st Baron Rokeby (1708 – 1794) in his ambition to put Armagh City on a par with Dublin and re-establish Armagh as a university city. 2. The Great Road of the Fews (Irish: Beala Mór an Feadha) - an ancient road between Dundalk (Irish: Dún Dealgan) and Navan Fort (Irish: Emain Macha).

Each map can be enlarged to make it easier to read, by simply clicking on the small box on the top right-hand corner. Some of the points are relevant to more than one of the maps, and as such I have included these on each map, I thought them relevant to.

Below are brief details of 21 points, or less than 1%, of the over 2,100 different ones plotted on the maps. I hope this varied selection gives you an appetite to explore more and enjoy the full potential of the About Armagh website.

1. Patrick's Fold, Scotch Street, Armagh is on the site of where St. Patrick built his first church (Templenafertagh) in the city and is thought to have been the burial place of his sister Lupita. The church is referred to in the Annals of the Four Masters and the Book of Armagh.

2. When St. Patrick first came to Armagh, he hoped to build his main church on the high hill of "Ard Macha", but a local chieftain named Daire occupied the hill and would not forfeit it. However, due to an apparent miracle by Patrick, Daire later changed his mind, and allowed Patrick to build his “Stone Church” there in 445AD.

3. There were many battles in Armagh over the centuries. The Battle of the Yellow Ford is one of the best known to have taken place in Ireland. It was fought on 14 August 1598 at Cabragh, just a few miles north of Armagh City, during the Nine Years' War in Ireland, and was between an English army led by Henry Bagenal, and an Irish army under Hugh O'Neill of Tyrone.

Between 831 and 1013 Vikings raided the city ten times, plus the High Church here was burnt down at least 19 times, by the Vikings, the English and the Irish.

Map of the Battle of the Yellow Ford at Cabragh, courtesy of and © O'Neill Country Historical Society.

4. Armagh is a city built on seven hills just like Rome. It was one of the most celebrated seminaries in Europe, from which many learned men, not only of Irish origin, but from all parts of Christendom, were despatched to diffuse knowledge throughout the known world; it is said that at one period 7,000 students were congregated there, and Armagh, along with Rome and Barcelona, was one of the three great Christian learning centres.

5. In 1004, probably the most famous of Irish High Kings, Brian Boru, travelled to the church to make an offering of gold at its altar, in doing so he recognised it as the centre of Irish Christianity. Ten years later, having inflicted the final defeat upon the Vikings, he was killed in the aftermath of the Battle of Clontarf and afterwards granted his final request by being buried at Armagh.

Brian Boru Plaque at Armagh COI Cathedral.

Brian Boru Sculpture in Cathedral Gardens, Armagh.

6. The 1765 appointment of Richard Robinson (1708 – 1794), Bishop of Kildare, to the top job in the Church of Ireland transformed Armagh’s waning fortunes. Primate Archbishop Robinson spent vast amounts of money on transforming the by then shabby and dilapidated town into a jewel of Georgian architecture, focussing his ambitious energies on his own Palace, an Infirmary, a Gaol, the beautiful Mall, and especially his Cathedral’s Library and an Observatory, intended as the nucleus of a proposed University.

7. On 12 June 1889 a train hired for a Methodist Sunday School seaside outing to Warrenpoint ran into difficulties on a steep hill, just northeast of Armagh. When uncoupled, to enable the engine to pull the front wagons to the top, the rear carriages rolled backwards and collided with an oncoming train, resulting in the deaths of 88 people, 22 of them children, and injuring another 180. This was the greatest rail disaster in Europe until then, and still ranks historically as by far the worst in Ireland and the fourth worst in the UK. On 12 June 2014, 125 years later, a permanent memorial to the victims of the Armagh Rail Disaster was unveiled on The Mall in Armagh City. This is a sculpture of a young girl with an empty bucket in one hand and a spade in the other.

8. Thomas Romney Robinson FRS (1792 – 1882) was a 19th-century Irish astronomer and physicist. He was the long-time director of the Armagh Observatory, one of the chief astronomical observatories in the UK of its time. He is remembered mainly as the inventor of the 4-cup anemometer. The observatory has unbroken weather recordings going back to 1794. These records are available at www.armagh.space/weather.

The Armagh Rail Disaster Memorial on The Mall was unveiled on 12 June 2014, 125 years after the crash. 

Anemometer - Robinson Type, John B. Grimoldi, Melbourne, circa 1880.

9. The town of Craigavon is named after the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon. Building started in 1960 and it was planned to be a modern city of 200,000 people. However, not all went to plan. To see more, watch a BBC documentary entitled "Lost City of Craigavon" at www.youtube.com/watch?v=VKw-T-47oqo.

10. The Ring of Gullion Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is a unique geological landform, unparalleled elsewhere in Ireland or the UK and was the first ring dyke in the world to be geologically mapped. The ring dyke is centred around Slieve Gullion and was formed c60 million years ago due to volcano activity, but without any lava coming to the surface. It covers an area of c37,000 acres or 150 km².

In December 2022, the area containing the Ring of Gullion, the Mourne Mountains, plus Strangford Lough and Lecale was the second area in Northern Ireland to have been formally designated as a UNESCO global geopark. Read more about this at www.unesco.org/en/iggp/geoparks/mourne-gullion-strangford.

Topographic Elevation map of the Ring of Gullion and The Mourne Mountains.

Courtesy of https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=83891523.

Slieve Gullion & Ring of Gullion can be seen in the lower left-hand side of the photo.

11. Saint Patrick’s Way: The Pilgrim Walk is a 132km (82 mile) trail connecting Navan Fort to Armagh and onto Downpatrick via Gosford Park, Clare Glen, Tandragee, Newry Canal Towpath, Scarva, Poyntzpass, Newry, Rostrevor, Mourne Mountains, Tullymore Forest Park, Newcastle and Dundrum. Read more about this walk at https://visitarmagh.com/trails/saint-patricks-way-the-pilgrim-walk.

12. The Newry Canal was the first summit level canal to be built in Ireland or Great Britain. It was opened in 1742 and closed in 1949. The navigable route ran from Lough Neagh to Portadown, then another 20 miles from Portadown to Newry. The towpath is still maintained as a walk/cycle route. Newry Canal Towpath Tour has 34 stops along the canal, from Point of Whitecoat, south of Portadown, to Dublin Bridge at Newry. Each stop has more information, some photos and a short podcast telling its history – see more at www.guidigo.com/Tour/United-Kingdom/Newry/Newry-Canal-Towpath-Tour/UceboJcGknw?lg=en and start the Tour at www.guidigo.com/Web/Newry-Canal-Towpath-Tour/UceboJcGknw/Stop/1/Point-of-Whitecoat. At present, the Newry & Portadown branch of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland (IWAI) is working to rewater and reopen the canal.

13. County Armagh is known throughout Ireland as the Orchard County. Apples have been grown here for over 3000 years. The Bramley apple was first brought to County Armagh in 1884. By 1921, 7,000 acres had been planted and Bramley had become the principal variety in Armagh. The unique growing conditions in north of the county result in a firmer, more dense fruit than would be grown elsewhere and this means County Armagh Bramley Apples have no equal anywhere in the world.

The Bramley Tree, Blue Plaque, Southwell, Notts.

Armagh Bramley Apples.

14. Charles Davis Lucas VC (1834 - 1914) was the first recipient of the Victoria Cross. He was born at Druminargle House, Scarva, Armagh BT63 6LE. Read more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Davis_Lucas.

15. Next to Dublin Bridge at Newry is a sculpture in recognition of Patrick Rankin, the only local person who quite literally got on his bike and cycled 70 miles to Dublin to take part in the 1916 Easter Rising. The Patrick Rankin Cycling Club in Newry is named after him.

Charles Davis Lucas VC, Blue Plaque, Druminargle House, Scarva, County Armagh.

Patrick Rankin sculpture was unveiled at Dublin Bridge, Newry on Thursday 22 December 2016.

16. Michael J Murphy, "The Last Druid", was born in Liverpool in 1913. His parents were Michael ‘Buck’ Murphy and Mary Campbell, both natives of Dromintee. In 1922, when he was eight years old, the family returned to live at Dromintee. He developed an interest in storytelling, the imaginative language and the folk beliefs of the people around Slieve Gullion. He began to write down their stories and sayings and went on to record what is probably the largest collection of oral tradition ever in the English-speaking world. See more at https://ringofgullion.org/gallery/michael-j-murphy-the-last-druid/ 

Michael J Murphy, "The Last Druid", with Slieve Gullion n the background.

17. Each year, around the 12 July, Northern Ireland comes to a near complete shutdown. This is to hold the annual parades organised by Orange Order to celebrate the victory of Protestant Prince of Orange over deposed Catholic King James II of England at the Battle of the Boyne (1690). The battle was won by William and the consequences have affected Ireland and Irish politics ever since.

The Orange Order was founded at Sloan’s House in Loughgall, County Armagh in September 1795 in the aftermath of this Battle of the Diamond which took place nearby. Sloan’s House is now the Museum of Orange Heritage – see more at www.orangeheritage.co.uk.

18. “Traditional Irish pubs” can be found in almost every country in the world. They have a reputation for being friendly, entertaining and inviting. In Ireland the local pub acts as the central point of the local community, especially in rural areas. It is where people meet to social, hold functions such as wedding receptions, organise charity events, enjoy listening to music, celebrate after sports and other events, and much more.

Basil Sheils is a great example of this. The famous, old rural pub sits overlooking the River Callan at Tassagh and appears set back in time. As well as being the focal point of the local community, it also: hosts numerous functions; is the venue for the charity Orchard Truck & Tractor Runs; offers live music, including traditional music; is popular for the local sport of road bowling, plus you can dine at its award-winning restaurant or stay in one of its upstairs rooms or its nearby holiday lets. See more at https://basilsheilsvenue.com.

As an extra: Watch Ceiliúradh Na Féile Pádraig (2022) at BBC iPlayer and recorded at Basil Sheils, Tassagh.

"We celebrate St Patrick’s Day with some of the best musicians and talent in the country. We join John Toal and Caoimhe ‘Ceol’ Ní Chathail in Basil Sheils’ pub in Co Armagh for music and craic, with performances from Clann Mhic Ruairi, Liam Ó Maonlaí and Fiachna Ó Braonáin, Clare Sands, Cathal McConnell, Brian Kennedy, the Keane family and much, much more".

The Callan River flows past Basil Shiels beer garden at Tassagh.

19. Kilnasaggart means “Church of the Priests”. Nothing now remains of the Early Christian Monastery which once stood here, but the site still contains an old graveyard and the Kilnasaggart Pillar Stone, the oldest known Christian inscribed stone in Ireland.

20. Like all other Irish counties, Armagh is littered with “Ancient Monuments”. These include ringforts, cashels, tombs, cairns, standing stones, etc. They are thought to be the homes of the Fairies and hence, to avoid bringing bad luck on themselves, the locals have tended to look after them through the years.

21. Ballymoyer translates to "the town of the bookkeeper", the book being the Book of Armagh. The MacMoyer’s were the hereditary bookkeepers of the Book of Armagh. In 1680 Florence MacMoyer pawned the Book of Armagh for £5 to pay for himself and his cousin, Franciscan Friar John MacMoyer, to go to London and give evidence at the trial of Archbishop of Armagh, Oliver Plunkett. On his return to Ireland, Florence was imprisoned and unable to reclaim the book. He died in 1713 and is buried in the old graveyard here. As for the Book of Armagh, it passed through various hands and eventually ended up in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin, and where it remains today.

Liber Ardmachanus. The Book of Armagh John Gwynn 1913 courtesy of and © Armagh Robinson Library.

Two pages of the Book of Armagh, courtesy of and © Armagh Robinson Library.

There’s a lot of information to take in on this website and it’s taken me a long time to get this far. I hope you have stayed with me and enjoyed reading "About Armagh" and continue to browse and learn more about this incredible county.

I do continue to add to and to update the website as I come across new information from sources such the Internet, Armagh i, Ulster Gazette, emails, word of mouth, etc. However, if you find any broken links or believe there’s something worth including, then please let me know. One section I would be grateful for extra help is "Stay", as the list of places to stay, keeps changing. Plus, it's free advertising for any of you who own a holiday let in the area. 

This comprehensive website is the first of its kind, so please enjoy the read. I hope you, schools, other educational establishments, researchers, etc. use this interactive website as a learning and research tool to find out more about this special city and county.


Just a thought: Should the island of Ireland ever hold a County of Culture, History, Folklore, etc., I believe this comprehensive website, the first of its kind, could greatly help Armagh with its bid. I also believe it would be such an asset if other counties compiled something similar, thus allowing us to read the stories each have to tell.

As for my two daughters, what are they doing now?

My oldest, Emma, is a Doctor of Epidemiology and is married to her long-time partner, who is a Doctor of Chemistry and an Olympian. During the recent pandemic she was a member of the SPI-M-O Modelling Group which gave expert advice to the Dept. of Health and UK government in England on scientific matters relating to their response to COVID-19. This advice was based on infectious disease modelling and epidemiology. She was interviewed about the pandemic on BBC News a few times. Today, she researches infectious disease modelling and lectures on Mathematical Biology and related subjects. She represents Team Ireland and Team Northern Ireland in Archery and competed for Ireland in the recent European Games in Kraków, Poland. She is a keen runner and often seen, on her travels, at parkruns around the world and enjoys many other outdoor activities such as walking.

Team Ireland waiting outside the Opening Ceremony for 2023 European Games in Kraków, Poland.

My oldest daughter is kneeling just to the left of the Ireland sign.

My youngest, Clare, went through a tough time in her teens, but we soon found this was due to her being on the Autism Spectrum. Eventually, she learned to embrace her differences, got funding to attend a specialist school and worked hard to achieve entry to university. She recently graduated with a 1st Class BSc in Psychology from the University of Sussex and won the Mike Scaife Prize for Outstanding Undergraduate Dissertation in Cognitive Psychology. She is now working as a research assistant and tutor at her university. Her goal is to become a Doctor of Psychology and specialise in Autistic cognition and wellbeing, while lecturing on psychological research methods. She also gets involved with Autistic charities, enjoys long-distance walking, running and has a passion for music.

Emma & Clare, Castleblayney parkrun June 2023

Emma & Clare, Castleblayney parkrun June 2023

My ex-wife and I are both battling illness. She has remarried, but we keep in touch and offer each other support. She continues to work and study, having collected five degrees already. Recently, she had gained enough strength to walk her local parkrun. I have also started walking again and hope to soon walk Armagh parkrun. I live with and care for my elderly mother, which can be tough at times. I keep occupied by taking photos, and videos, researching and updating my websites. I am hoping I can get www.aboutarmagh.com and my other recent websites out to a much larger audience. I also have a few extra things in mind to get on with. One is to compile a new website about my local village, Keady Town. It's been a Long Road Home to Discover "About Armagh" but let's see what more delights the road in front will bring.

Below are some photos of me, taken on 25 September 2023, at three of the many historic places which feature on this website. Let's all continue to enjoy them whilst we can.

Aughnagurgan Megalithic Tomb 

Tullynawood Lake

Darkley Mill Chimney

Contact Details: info@aboutarmagh.com or seangbw@gmail.com  

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