Welcome to my ‘5 Things Friday’ blog, where this week I’m taking a look at some interesting facts about Co. Armagh. Apart from an abundance of apple orchards which accounts for its title as the ‘Orchard County’, Armagh has lots of interesting things to see and do and some pretty amazing folks have been born there. Below are some of my favourite facts about the county.
Population of Co. Armagh: 174,792 (2011 Census)
Area: 1,326 Sq. Km (512 Sq. mi)
Co. Armagh is in the province of Ulster and is the smallest of the six counties of Northern Ireland. Home to the ancient capital of the Kings of Ulster, it is a picturesque county with rolling hills, mountains and waterways aplenty, such as Slieve Gullion and the Camlough Mountains and the River Blackwater and Lough Neagh. It is also home to Ireland’s smallest city, Armagh. Through my research for Ireland Planner I’ve come across many interesting things about the county that I didn’t know. Some of my favourite facts are listed below.
Armagh is known as the ‘Orchard of Ireland’ because of its abundance of orchards, particularly in the north of the county. Incredibly, Ireland can claim to produce 144 varieties of apple and Co. Armagh alone produces 35 million apples per year! The most popular and best of these is the Armagh Bramley, a cooking apple with a distinctly firm, crisp texture and tart flavour. This apple has joined the likes of fine champagnes and port by being awarded a PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) by the EU. Only the best foods reach this accreditation and earn the right of name and brand protection and the Armagh Bramley is no exception. It is said that St. Patrick planted the first apple tree in Armagh but the Bramley was introduced to the county in 1884 and the apple industry quickly became a major employer in the county. Lucky for us technology has been developed which allows Armagh Bramleys to be supplied year-round so you never have to go without that home-grown apple tart!
Armagh City is considered to be the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, being the seat of both Archbishop of Armagh and Primates of Ireland for the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland. As a result, the city unusually boasts two cathedrals, both named after St. Patrick. The Church of Ireland cathedral of St. Patrick’s sits on the site of an original church founded in 445ad by the patron saint of Ireland himself, since the medieval catholic cathedral of St. Patrick was transferred to Protestantism at the time of the Irish Reformation under Henry VIII. The cathedral building has been destroyed and rebuilt 17 times in its history. It is also believed to be the burial place of Brian Boru, the legendary High King of Ireland. It wasn’t until ground breaking began on a Roman Catholic cathedral on an adjoining hill in 1838 that Armagh once again had an official seat for a Catholic Archbishop. This cathedral was completed in 1904 and now both buildings stand as majestic sentinels on hills overlooking the city.
Robert Garmany McCrum was a renowned Armagh-based linen millionaire in the 19th century, founder of the model village of Milford and the High Sheriff of Armagh. His son William later worked for the family linen business as one its Managing Directors. He also had a lifelong interest in sports and played for many years as goalkeeper for Milford FC and was a member of the Irish Football Association. It was this role in 1890 that led William McCrum to propose the idea of a penalty kick. This was to offset the practice at the time of defenders fouling an attacking player to stop a goal. Victorian society of the time still believed in the ‘gentleman’s’ code of conduct in sport and his idea was initially met with derision. It is said that this opinion changed during an ensuing FA Cup quarter final in 1891 when an indirect kick on a goal line awarded due to a hand ball did not result in a goal. Thus, the penalty kick rule was approved and written into the laws of the game in June 1891. All thanks to an Armagh man!
Slieve Gullion is an imposing and ancient mountain in the south of County Armagh which contains one of the highest passage graves in Ireland at its summit. The view from the top is spectacular where, on a clear day, you can see across 9 counties. Slieve Gullion also plays an important part in Irish mythology as it was here that the legendary warrior Cú Chulainn got his name. According to legend, the mountain is called after a metalsmith called Culann. Culann invited Conchobhar mac Neasa, the King of Ulster, to a feast at his home and on the way, Conchobhar stopped to watch local boys play hurling. He was so impressed with the playing skills of one boy, Sétanta, that he asked him to join them at the feast. However, he forgot to inform Culann, who let his ferocious dog loose to guard his house with the King inside. When Sétanta arrived, the hound attacked him and he killed it. Culann was so distraught at the loss of his hound that Sétanta vowed to rear him a replacement and in the meantime he would guard the house himself. The druid Cathbhadh gave the name Cú Chulainn (meaning ‘Culann’s Hound’) to the boy Sétanta and he was known by that name forever more.
15 feet below a nondescript filed just outside the town of Portadown in Co. Armagh lies a fascinating relic of the Cold War. A former monitoring bunker, it was used to study and report the effects of Nuclear explosions and the resulting radioactive fallout. Built in 1959 at a time when nuclear Armageddon posed a real threat, these shelters are dotted throughout the province, but the Portadown bunker is believed to be the only fully-restored one of its kind in Northern Ireland. It was manned by volunteer men and women of the Royal Observer Corps who could spend up to 3 weeks underground. The bunker was closed in an official capacity in 1991 but is now restored and can be visited to experience what life might have been like had a nuclear event happened. You have to have a good head for heights though as entry is by vertical ladder for obvious reasons. Admission is free however a donation is appreciated. I can’t wait to go up (down?) for a look this coming summer.
So there you have it for another edition ‘5 Things Friday’. A few of my favourite ‘interesting things’ about amazing Armagh. As ever, there are many more, but I’ll save those for another date. Please feel free to comment and please share the blog with your friends.
Happy Irish travels,