On a very cold, yet bright inviting Armagh morning, the newly appointed ambassadors assembled at number 5 Vicars Hill, directly across the road from St Patrick’s Cathedral (Church of Ireland). The row of buildings, located on the western crest of the ancient Hill of Armagh. 5 Vicars’ is one of a charming curved terrace of Georgian houses, each having a garden of varying size at the rear.. Number 5 was built in the early 1770’s with the sole purpose as the Metropolitan Registry to hold records for the Church of Ireland and Armagh Diocese. The building was never meant to be lived in. It was designed specifically as a repository and an administration building where secular and ecclesiastical matters were dealt with, recorded and stored. The term of governance for this building and the Armagh Public Library were drawn up and signed by Archbishop Robinson and the Keeper of the Library, Dean of Armagh, Hugh Hamilton in an indenture dated 19th day of August 1782.
It is clear to see that the building was never built to be lived in because of its design. It has two main large octagonal rooms which were designed in such a way that air could circulate in a controlled temperature. This helps ensure that the stored records could be preserved in good condition. There are no wooden floors only marble floors, in fact the original flagstones (Armagh Marble) still remains to this day.
There is a slight twist to this story, because in the 1930’s as space began to run out, the records began to be moved to elsewhere, with most been stored in the new Public Records Office in Belfast. So the decision was made that in order to keep the building in good condition it was decided to adapt the building to a dwelling and from 1935 until the turn of the century people lived there such as retired clergy, retired lay persons and widows and the last person to live there was a resident by the name of Esme Strain. When she died the decision was made to either upgrade the building to accommodate 21st century living or restore the building to its original state, and the later was decided on.
A full restoration was approved and the building opened to the public on the 14th March 2011. It is now a grade (A) listed building which is home to a museum which retains some original records dating back from the early 1600’s. Also on display are ancient coins, gems, significant prints, early Christian Artefacts and other collections and curiosities which had belonged to the Archbishops and which hitherto had been preserved in Armagh Public Library. There are interactive display facilities including touchscreens which are suitable for all ages and are very user-friendly. Visitors are also able to view the Armagh Ogham Stone, and then using an available activity sheet, write their name in Ogham if they so wish. Ogham is the earliest form of Irish known and reflects a timeline of Archbishops and their predecessors on “The Hill” FROM St Patricks (444AD). What a beginning to our Ecclesiastical Tour and well done Stephen our initial tour guide..
The deceptively large building, which resembles a modest dwelling from the outside, has a fascinating interior and retains many of its original features. Once inside we were greeted by our tour guide (Stephen) whose knowledge appeared to have escaped from the world encyclopedias.
No 5 will appeal to all age groups. There is an opportunity to explore the collections in more detail through the use of touch screens. Advice and information can be provided to those who wish to carry out more in-depth research of the archives, many of which are contained in the nearby Armagh Public Library.
Younger visitors can make use of activity sheets to write their name in Ogham, the earliest form of Irish. They can also handle replicas of some of the old coins, answer the quiz questions, have fun rubbing outlines of medals and ancient bronze objects and try the jig-saws of old prints.
Before leaving 5 Vicar’s Hill we heard about the Green Lady. Stories have it that the bones of the story seem to be that the Green Lady was a child killer whose soul was captured in a (usually green) bottle and hidden in a bricked up window in her old house on Vicar’s Hill. So much of the story seems subjective – vague recollections of gruesome details and confused memories about childhood nightmares. The fear the Green Lady instills, however, seems to have been a powerful force in local childhoods for decades. Children relished the opportunity to frighten one another with the ghost story despite the uncertainty surrounding the Green Lady’s ghost, making her consistent absence of identity all the more conspicuous. Her presence was clearly visible in the photo’s I took, still caught up in the green bottle. .
Next up for the new Ambassadors was a trip to the oldest library in Northern Ireland, Armagh Public Library. It was founded in 1771 by Archbishop Richard Robinson as part of his plans to establish a university and to improve Armagh City. The 1773 ‘Act for settling and preserving the Public Library in Armagh for ever’ established the Library and its name.The Library building was designed by Thomas Cooley, and has always housed both the Library and the Library Keeper’s residence. In 1839 a gallery was added to the main public area, called the Long Room, to accommodate the growing collections. This was followed in 1848 by an extension on either side of the original building. It is since that time that the public has entered the Library through a separate entrance to the side of the building, rather than through the Keeper’s residence.The building itself is a site to behold and moreover just as you enter the building you can see an inscription ancient Greek, carved above the door. When translated in to english it reads ” The healing place of the Soul” How true is this for once you step inside you could loose yourself in 17th & 18th century books on everything from Theology, philosophy, classic modern literature, travel, history, medicine, law in fact no matter what your looking for, you most probably can find it with the help of the well versed librarians. A big attraction which calls people from all walks of the world is the fact that the Library houses a first edition of Gulliver’s Travel, hence that’s where one group of Ambassadors formed their name “The Lilliputians”
Armagh Public Library also has reproductions of the Book of Armagh and The Book of Kells and of course as well as a Library it is also a Museum which holds prints, ancient artifacts and many other objects including gems and coins..According to the Librarians, new acquisitions of items on local church history relating to both Churches and Jonathan Swift keep the Library alive and current.
Next up was St Patricks Cathedral (Church of Ireland) which is built on the hill of Ard Mhaca,’the height of Mhaca’,from which the City got its name. According to tradition, St Partick had a stone church built on this site in 445AD. Although nothing remains of the original building, a church has been there since that time. The famous book of Armagh states that Patrick decreed that the church in Armagh should have pre-eminence over all the churches and monasteries in Ireland, a position it holds to this very day.
The present building dates from 1268 and was commissioned by Archbishop O Scannell. The exterior and interior décor is a product of a major refurbishment carried out in the 1830’s and overseen by the English Architect Lewis Nockalls Cottingham an astute architect of his time. The Cathedral stands on one of the most ancient Christian sites in the UK & Ireland, hence not surprisingly, dignitaries visit from all over the world.
I must say our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and most interesting, and from entering the building until leaving, our attention was focused on his every word. He had a lot to cover as he started by saying that St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral dates back to 1268 and has served the community as a place of worship for over 1500
years. He explained the history of the church and how it contains an 11th century Celtic cross. He went on to tell us about the High King of Ireland (Brian Boru) who was buried in the Cathedral Grounds in 1014 and even took us to the suggested burial place. For someone visiting for the first time I have to say I was blown away by the beautiful sculptures dating back from the Bronze Age to the 20th Century.
Before leaving the church we were showing the Regimental Chapel of the Royal Irish Fusiliers which was a local regiment for the counties of Armagh, Cavan & Monaghan. Attention to detail was outstanding in every square inch of the building, and of course I could not leave without taking a picture of St Patrick from high above, gleaming down on his flock. To concrete the memorable tour we were next taking down to the Crypt with headstones far reaching 9th and 10th centuries. A little spooky perhaps but a tour that will leave lasting memories. VISIT US ON FACEBOOK TELL ME MORE
Our final Ecclesiastical Tour for the day was to the Irish & Local Studies Library which has a wide range of historical information covering all aspects of Irish Life & studies from earliest times to present day, with particular emphasis on county Armagh, South Down, South & East Tyrone and bordering counties in the Republic of Ireland. Subject matters include Plays, Poetry and critical works together with a range of other Literature in both English & Irish with particular emphasis on accounts of travel in Ireland.
To say you could spend a day there would be an understatement as there is so much to do and see. No matter what your interest are, you will be immediately drawn to the availability of Journals & Periodicals which encompasses works of general interests, academic studies, some obscure rare items. Other topics covered are religion, politics, sports, arts, Local & National Newspapers, Linenhall collection pertaining to the troubles dating back to the 18th & 19th century and many of these are available in microfilm form. In fact a full list of newspapers is available on request.
Perhaps your interests are old Maps, Photographs, Postcards or tracing your family routes, whatever it is you are looking for you will find it in the Irish & Local Studies Library. Just like we were afforded the opportunity of a guided tour so can you. Visits and induction sessions I understand can be arranged for local history and community groups, schools, third level academic institutions and other interested bodies. There is also family history workshops delivered through branch libraries. “I want to know more” visit us on Facebook..