Gino and I continued our explorations of Armagh. As we walked, one of the St. Patrick’s cathedrals appeared (the “Church of Ireland” one).
In the year 445, St. Patrick built a stone church on a hill called Ard Macha, from which the town’s name derives. (Macha was a Pagan Goddess linked to Emain Macha, a nearby Neolithic ritual site dating from four to five thousand years ago.) Two years after Patrick built the church, he ordained that Armagh should have pre-eminence over all the churches of Ireland, a position it holds to this day. The church has been rebuilt over the years due to endured sufferings: Viking raids, fire, and other plunderings. Nothing remains of that ancient church except the bases of the tower piers.
We walked up the famous hill to the current rendition of the church. It still looks ancient. Darting inside for a quick look, I paused to light a candle for Jan. Back outside, we walked through the adjacent terraced gardens that overlook the main street.
We laughed and laughed at the signs on the gate at the bottom of the hill leading up to the church. One said, “Welcome to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.” The other showed a circle with a mug of beer in the middle and a thick red line slashing across it. The admonition read: “It is an offense to drink alcohol in public places in this area — maximum fine 500 pounds.”
On our way back, we stopped for take-away sandwiches: lunch for the four of us before we hit the road. Our stash of English pounds was almost depleted, but it was enough for provisions. We had already set aside our payment to Sylvia.
The walk back brought us past the other St. Patrick’s cathedral (the Catholic one). This St. Patrick’s is much newer, the first foundation stone having been laid on St. Patrick’s Day, 1840, and construction completed in 1873. With its French Gothic twin spires, dazzling stained glass windows, and intricate Celtic patterned mosaic floors, this one was my favorite of the two.
Although the two St. Patrick churches were of different denominations, no rivalry exists between them. Acknowledging their shared spirit, Ulster poet John Hewitter wrote a homage to the unity of the two traditions in their allegiance to Patrick:
“You say Armagh, and I see the hill
With the two tall spires or the square low tower;
The faith of Patrick is with us still;
His blessing falls in a moonlit hour.”
I was carrying the bag of juicy sandwiches, but I didn’t want to miss going inside. Into the almost-empty cathedral we went, admiring its opulent decor and pondering the mournful statues. As I bent to admire the Celtic design on the floor, I noticed a thin trickle of liquid oozing from the sandwich bag. Two of the sandwich containers had been placed sideways (not by me) and were now leaking onto this sacred floor! Mortified, I dashed outside before more damage could be done.
Hoping no one had noticed the reason for my hasty departure, I stopped at the edge of the adjacent church cemetery, righting the now-sloppy containers as best I could. Looking up, I noticed the Celtic crosses in the cemetery a few steps away. Always unable to resist old gravestones, I entered, picking my way through the overgrown grass and contemplating the grave markers while taking care to keep the sandwich bag upright as I walked. A woman in work boots eyed me curiously as she cleared brush from a grave.