‘It is for you to decide whether I should be a treasury or a Tomb!’ This is the inscription addressed to visitors over the entrance to one of the world’s most famous museums nestled on a hilltop behind St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh, I am speaking about Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich Library & Archive.
In his will, dated 30th of November 1989, Cardinal Tomas O Fiaich asked his successor to authorise the committee of Cumann Seanchais Ard Mhacha, the Armagh Diocesan Historical Society, to make suitable arrangements for the accommodation and care of his historical papers and Library. In response a charitable trust was established by Cardinal Cahal Daly and named The Cardinal Tomas O Fiaich Memorial Library & Archive Trust
We were greeted by narrator Roddy Hegarty who was most invigorating and interesting. His message was simple “We must aim to ensure that for the riches of the Second Vatican Council that this synod will be, not a tomb, but a treasury. A tomb contains the relics of the past but they are dead: they lack the beauty and form which once gave them life: no one wants to view at close quarters; on the other hand a treasury displays them with all their vivid colours and sparkling jewels, they are alive. Impressive, attractive, and on a march, they bring the past to life again.
Roddy explained that the library holds Catholic Church Registers for 4 different counties up to the 1900’s. These include Armagh, Louth and approximately the eastern half of Tyrone and 4 parishes in Derry, Ardtrea, Castledawson, Lissan & Magherafelt. Also available are migration records dating back from the 1500’s to the 1900’s and to our amazement we discovered that original documents were held there from archives in France and Spain relating to business, military and church activities.
Notwithstanding the aforementioned the library is seeped with Irish History, especially ecclesiastical history, Irish Culture, especially the Irish language and Irish games together with Irish-European links (extended to the Irish abroad)
What was really interesting was the story behind how the library found its home on the sandy hill. Roddy informed us that St Patrick, having healed the local chieftain, Daire, asked him for a site in which to build his church. The site he chose was the exact location where Daire’s home rested on, and of course Daire was not prepared to surrender same but instead attempted to repay St Patrick by offering him items of value which St Patrick would not accept. Eventually Daire relinquished and granted St Patrick the desired site upon which to build his church. That site is today the location of the Church of Ireland Cathedral in the City.
Story has it that upon arrival at the site, Patrick, Daire and their entourage discovered a Deer and her fawn grazing there and some of St Patrick’s followers resolved to kill the young animal and feast on it in celebration. St Patrick intervened and carried the fawn on his shoulders from Druim Saileach, or Sally Hill, to the nearby Sandy Hill where the library now stands.
Another very interesting story Roddy shared with us was about a consecrated portable alter stone which was used as a centrepiece in the penal era, because in the early 18th century until the time of Catholic Emancipation in 1829, repressive religious legislation prevented the open practice of the Catholic religion in Ireland. With few or any buildings and relatively few clergy the church faced serious challenges in providing regular organised celebrations of the sacrament’s for the laity. Roddy explained, it was common practice at that time for a local farmer or homeowner to make a room available for the congregation to gather, and the consecrated portable stone would be used as the centrepiece which could be quickly removed leaving no evidence of this clandestine practice.
He then went on to speak about the penal cross which is one of the most symbolic artifacts of the era of religious persecution that followed the Williamite Wars in Ireland. Successive pieces of legislation severely curtailed the rights of the majority Catholic population and its clergy to practice their religion. Senior clergy were banished and a premium was placed upon the head of practicing priests. He said it was widely believed that the penal cross arose at this time and that itinerant clergy would have carried these hidden up their sleeves. It is speculated that the narrow shoulders of the cross would have made its concealment relatively simple. These crosses may well have been made by local people in proximity to major shrines or places of pilgrimage and sold to visitors as devotional aids or simply as souvenirs.
Next up Roddy presented us with a Trowel with an inscription on it. It was the actual trowel with which the foundation stone was laid for the Cathedral on the 17th March 1840. Minutes of a meeting held in the archive suggests that stone for the church was carefully selected from local quarries hence creating local employment. Building commenced and its believed that the walls had been built to some thirty feet when the building had to be suspended due to the devastation of the famine. Funds raised for the building were diverted to more pressing causes and the project was left in suspension to be recommenced years later.
Roddy shared several other hidden treasures with all the ambassadors, and with each treasure shared, came a remarkable story which would keep you hanging on to his every word. I can honestly say that Roddy’s attention to detail was impeccable and we were treated to a delivery of excellence.
After a short tea/coffee break and of course scones, biscuits and whatever you’re having yourself, it was time for next speaker Mr Roger Nesbitt ( Chairperson) of The Festival and Summer School.
Roger explained about Charles Wood, the renowned musician and composer, who was born at 11 Vicars’ Hill, Armagh in 1866 and received his early musical education as a chorister in the cathedral opposite his home. He later studied at the Royal College of Music and became a Professor there before succeeding Stanford, that other fine Irish musician and composer, as Professor of Music at Cambridge University. When Wood died in 1926 he left behind a legacy of over 250 sacred works plus a large number of hymn tunes. His other compositions include songs, music for Greek plays and chamber music but it is largely for his sacred music that he is remembered today.
The objectives of the Festival and Summer School are:
- To promote the music of Charles Wood and his association with Armagh
- To provide opportunities for people to develop and enhance skills associated with music in worship
- To present programmes of music to the highest achievable standard within both a concert and liturgical context.
There will be a wide range of events taking place such as Choral Conducting Day, Sing Creation for church choir members. Musical Cocktail, combining traditional and brass band music: and, if you just enjoy a good time you don’t want to miss this week-long music festival which is been held in August. Click Here For more Info.
Next to share excitement of the coming attractions and festivals was Cathy O Kane (Economy Development Officer) from the Armagh Council. Cathy is the coordinator of events for the council and works closely with businesses as well as the health & beauty & the hospitality industry.
Coming this Spring from Thursday 14th – Saturday 16th April a stylish celebration of fabulous fashion & beauty around the city of Armagh, Bandbridge, Portadown & Lurgan with many independent boutiques, high street stores together with hair & beauty specialists. Cathy explained that during these celebrations, you will be able to experience an exciting programme packed with wardrobe inspiration and seasonal tips including, Fashion Show in the Armagh City Hotel, The fabulous 40’s with costumes, Hairstyles, Food and Music from the era at the studio which is been held at Wright’s Interiors. There will also be a Live Catwalk in Lurgan and Portadown town centres, so just come along and discover your inner fashion during a variety of workshops and master classes.
Cathy also told us about the 7 Hills Blues Festival commencing Thursday 11th – Sunday 14th of August. This is festival not to be missed. There will be over 60 free gigs across Armagh City Centre every second weekend in August. It’s the 6th year of the festival and promises to be the best yet with an exciting line-up of the best of local talent who will take their place amongst more well-known names in the genre. People are also encouraged to come along and pick up an instrument and join in the many classes on offer. 2016 is Northern Ireland year of food & drink and accordingly you can expect sizzling BBQ’s and inspired menues available throughout the festival..
Then on Wednesday 5th – Sunday 9th October we have Armagh Festival of Food & Cider which will be a celebration of tasty local cuisine and cider , showcasing all that Armagh City has to offer by way of restaurants, orchards and breweries. Diners and craft brew enthusiasts will have the opportunity to sample local hospitality at its best. On offer will be:
- Pop up Cookery School for all ages and abilities
- Pop up Restaurant
- Restaurant Food Tours
- Orchard Tours
- Artisan Food & Cider Market
- Cider Tasting
- Scrumptious menu’s using the finest local sourced ingredients
Full details available by contacting Cathy at firstname.lastname@example.org
Next stop was to meet the legendary Jack known far and near for his eloquent delivery and deep knowledge of St Patrick’s Cathedral which is the seat of the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland. It was built in various phases between 1840 and 1904 to serve as the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Armagh, the original Medieval Cathedral of St. Patrick having been transferred to the Protestant Church of Ireland at the time of the Irish Reformation.
Jack explained that the building of a Catholic Cathedral was a task imbued with great historic and political symbolism. Armagh was the Primatial seat of Ireland and its ancient ecclesiastical capital where St Patrick had established his Great Church. Yet, since the Irish Reformation under Henry VIII, no Catholic Archbishop had resided there. Since the seventeenth century, the majority Catholic population of Ireland had lived under the rigours of the Penal Laws, a series of enactments which were designed, in the words of the Anglo-Irish historian Lecky, “to deprive Catholics of all civil life; to reduce them to a condition of extreme, brutal ignorance; and, to disassociate them from the soil”. As a result, whilst to some extent tolerated, the public practice of Catholicism was almost completely extinguished and all Churches existent at the time of the enactment of the laws were ceded to the Established Church. Thus, by the end of the Eighteenth Century, there were few Catholic Churches and no Cathedrals in existence in Ireland for a large Catholic population. Following Catholic emancipation in 1829, the need to construct churches and cathedrals to serve this population became critically apparent. The lack of a Catholic presence in the Primatial City of Armagh in particular became a popular cause of discontent among the emerging Catholic episcopacy, clergy and congregation.
Archbishop William Crolly was appointed to Armagh in 1835 and almost immediately sought permission to reside in Armagh; the first Catholic Primate to do so since the Reformation. Having settled in the town, he then set about seeking a site for a new Catholic Cathedral. The main difficulty in constructing a Catholic Cathedral at Armagh was that the land of Armagh city and suburbs consisted almost entirely of “see-land”, the mensal estate or demesne of the Protestant Primate and thus would not be available for the Catholic episcopacy to purchase. A dramatic site at the apex of a hill on the outskirts of the town had however been sold to the Earl of Dartrey. According to the ninth century Book of Armagh, and according to Jack, this hill was the prominence upon which St. Patrick had reunited the doe spared at the site of the High Altar of his Great Church during its consecration in about 445 AD with its mother..
Jack spoke about Archbishop Crolly as if he had served with him, which demonstrates his seeded knowledge of that era. As previously referred to, the famine deprivation caused the building of the church to cease and sadly Archbishop Crolly was himself also a victim of the famine, contracting cholera whilst tending to famine ravaged Drogheda and dying on Good Friday 1849.
His successor, Archbishop Paul Cullen abandoned the project and moved the Primatial to Drogheda. It was only when Cullen was transferred to Dublin and Archbishop Joseph Dixon was appointed to the See of Armagh that work recommenced in 1854. By this time, Duff was dead and there had been a revolution in ecclesiastical architectural taste in Ireland. Following visits to Ireland by A.W.N. Pugin, the Perpendicular Gothic style of the sixteenth century had fallen from favour and earlier Medieval Gothic had become more popular. The architect James Joseph McCarthy, a self-styled “pupil” of Pugin, was appointed to oversee the completion of the Cathedral.
The position as architect to the new Cathedral was rather a difficult one for, by the time of McCarthy’s appointment, the walls of Duff’s Perpendicular building were already 10 metres (34 ft) high and had reached the top of the aisles. McCarthy did not wish to continue to build in the now unfashionable Perpendicular Gothic of Duff. His solution was to start building a Decorated Gothic Cathedral of the fourteenth century on top of the purportedly sixteenth century foundations and walls.
Jack reflected on how the decorated Gothic tracery was inserted into the existing window openings and at the West end, he reduced the size of the traceried window and inserted below it an arcade of apostolic statues. The pitch of Duff’s roof was raised a full 6.1 metres (20 ft), adding greatly to the exterior impact of the building and permitting the insertion of clerestory and triforium to the interior. A sense of drama was added to the transepts by the addition of asymerical spired turrets to their ends and the addition of rose windows to their gables. The most dramatic change effected to Duff’s plans was the abandonment of the three rather squat towers designed by Duff to reach a height of 39 metres (128 ft). Instead, two breached towers crowned with spires 64 metres (210 ft) high were constructed at the West end.
Dixon died in 1866 again before the completion of the Cathedral and once again the project was abandoned under his elderly successor Archbishop Michael Kieran. It thus fell to Kieran’s successor, Archbishop Daniel McGettigan to complete the building. Following the completion of the spires, McGettigan turned his attention to the interior. Here, to capitalise on the increased height gained at the expense of external massing, McCarthy constructed an elaborately carved vaulted hammer-beam roof with carved angels terminating the hammer beams and stone saints as corbels. He designed a Caen stone reredos which spans the entire wall of the east end and which is filled with carvings from the life of the Virgin below an arcade of carved and crocketted pinnacles and centered with a carved canopy over a statue of the Madonna and Child. Archbishop McGettigan commissioned painted murals to adorn the walls of the Lady Chapel and stencilling was applied to its ceiling. The Cathedral was dedicated on 24 August 1873. The Interior of the Cathedral was completed in 1873 following the dedication, Primate McGettigan continued to make improvements as funds and his declining would allow. In 1875 he commissioned the Stations of the Cross from Herbert & Co. of Liverpool and installed the Great 33-stop pipe organ by William Telford. In 1879, the seven-light east window was filled with stained glass by Earley & Powell of Dublin and work began on the seven terrace flight of steps to the plaza in front of the west end. Finally in 1884, a sacristan’s lodge was constructed at the bottom of the steps. When Archbishop McGettigan died in December 1887 after some years of failing health, the Cathedral had seen the passing of five successive Archbishops and the expenditure of the unprecedented sum of over £70,000.