From saintly trails to galactic tales, County Armagh is the perfect place for lovers of Celtic history, early Christianity, architecture and literature.
Take a weekend to explore the Orchard County and its Bramley apples, the historic Armagh city, ancient sites nearby and the natural beauty of the Ring of Gullion.
1.Lough shore walk
Start the weekend at Oxford Island Nature Reserve with a stroll along the beautiful Lough Neagh shore or through the meadows. A printed guide is available for each trail to alert walkers to the flora and fauna they are likely to see along the way.
2. Explore The Argory
This 19th-century gentry house in Dungannon is surrounded by a 130-acre wooded riverside estate. Take a tour of the house to view its elegant décor and hear the remarkable story of its owners. Recharge your batteries with homemade soups, sandwiches and scones in the Courtyard Coffee Shop.
3.Taste the orchard county
Head to Ballinteggart, just outside Portadown, for a tour of Armagh Cider Company, which gives an insight into how Armagh’s famous Armagh Bramley apples are turned into quality cider and apple juice. The ‘blossom to bottle’ process all takes place on the family farm and the tour ends with the opportunity to taste the fruity products. Book in advance.
Arrive in Armagh city for a mouth-watering evening meal in relaxing surroundings, at the Moody Boar. The chefs serve up food that has grown in the restaurant garden and foraged from the Palace Demesne Public Park. The menu is chock full of local food superstars from Fivemiletown cheese to Lough Neagh eel.
5.Visit both of Saint Patrick’s cathedrals
As the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, Armagh city has two imposing cathedrals, both named for St Patrick and worth checking out for their interesting architecture and wonderful interiors. St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral is built on the site of Patrick’s first stone church on the hill from which the city takes its name – Ard Macha. The more recent Catholic cathedral stands on the hill opposite.
Discover more of Armagh city’s amazing architecture with a self-guided tour following the Robinson Trail. Richard Robinson was Archbishop of Armagh in the late 18th century and was responsible for several iconic buildings in the city. The trail includes the beautiful Armagh Public Library, Armagh Infirmary, Armagh Observatory, The Royal School, the Gaol and the Archbishop’s Palace, Chapel and Palace Stables.
After a morning spent next to the heavens, it’s time for more earthly pleasures. The 4 Vicars restaurant is one of Armagh’s hidden gems, housed in a beautiful Georgian listed building and serving up a delicious menu to create a true taste of Armagh.
Step inside Armagh Planetarium for a spectacular 3-D StarDome show that’s not to be missed – taking journeys through distant constellations, exploring black holes and cosmic chemistry. Astronomer Sir Patrick Moore oversaw the building of the original dome when he was director of the planetarium in the sixties. Pre-booking is required.
9.Evening cheer with craft beer
Start the evening with a ‘beer paddle’ in Uluru Bar in Armagh city’s historic marketplace. The paddle holds four quarter pints, each a different craft beer from the innovative Mourne Brewery. It’s a great way to sample some of Northern Ireland’s newest craft beers; there’s also a gin paddle for spirit-lovers. Follow up with a meal in the superb Uluru Grill which serves food with an Aussie twist.
10.Legendary Emain Macha
Next, make for the Navan Centre & Fort to spend the afternoon exploring one of Ireland’s most important archaeological sites – Emain Macha, the royal site of the Kings of Ulster. Begin in the brilliant interactive exhibition area, then enjoy the audio-visual show relating the legends of the Ulster Cycle. Outside, a guided tour of the fort reveals its fascinating history and there is a chance to meet Celtic characters from 2,000 years ago.
11.Drive the Ring of Gullion
Begin the day with an audio-guided driving tour around the stunning Ring of Gullion, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and an important ring dyke. There are two driving routes to choose from which reveal the rich cultural heritage of the region including numerous ancient tombs, castles and standing stones, as well as awe-inspiring views.