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Ireland Gazeteer

Armagh in 1833

ARMAGH, a city of Ireland, in the barony and county to which it gives name, 81 miles from Dublin. It is in the northern part of the county, and not far from the little river Callen, a feeder of the Blackwater, which flows into Lough Neagh.

The town is on an eminence, with the cathedral in the centre crowning the summit, and is surrounded by other small eminences. Some of the streets form an irregular circuit round the cathedral, and on the slope of the hill; all the others, leading into the town from the surrounding country terminate in this circuit, except three, which are continued to the summit, and lead to the cathedral enclosure.

Armagh which had sunk greatly to decay, owes much of its renovation to the munificence and public spirit of Dr. Richard Robinson, Baron Rokeby, who was archbishop from 1765 to 1794.

The town is rather more than three-quarters of a mile from north to south, and above half a mile from east to west.

Of public edifices the cathedral deserves the first notice, although in richness and beauty of architecture it is inferior to many of our English cathedrals. Its situation is commanding, from being on the summit of the hill on which the city is built.

After undergoing many changes from the period when St. Patrick is said to have founded it (viz., in 445), it was destroyed in 1566 by Shane O'Neil, who wished to revenge some insult which he thought had been offered him by the primate (Loftus).

It was rebuilt in 1616 b primate Hampton, and in 1642 it was again destroyed by Sir Phelim O'Neil during the primacy of the celebrated Usher. It was again rebuilt by primate Margetson in the year 1675, and repaired and improved by primate Robinson; and a complete restoration is at present going on.

It is in the form of a cross 183 feet long from east to west; and in breadth across the transepts 119 feet in the clear. From the intersection arises a square tower (the battlement of which is 31 feet above the roof) surmounted by a spire feet high. From the ground to the top of the weathercock, is 150 feet. Part of the tower and the spire were built during the primacy of Robinson.

The same prelate built near the town a handsome archiepiscopal palace, of large dimensions, and in a light and pleasing style of architecture. It is in the midst of a lawn skirted by plantations; the offices are detached and hidden behind a plantation at a small distance.

He also contributed largely to the erection of a new school-house in the town, containing large dormitories, dining-room, and school-room, apartments for the master, and a spacious walled play-ground. This school, an exceedingly well-endowed royal foundation of Charles I, long maintained, under Mr. Carpendale, the master whom primate Robinson appointed, a high reputation, and was regarded as the Westminster or Eton of Ireland.

A public library and an observatory were built and endowed by the same primate, who also directed the erection of barracks, procured the establishment of a county infirmary, and ornamented the city with a new market-house and shambles.

By refusing to grant leases except on the condition of the tenants rebuilding the houses, he raised the place from an almost deserted village, a nest of mud cabins, to be one of the most beautiful and flourishing inland towns in Ireland.

Armagh is the assize town of the county, and has a jail, as well as a handsome court-house, lately built.

It is lighted with oil, but as gas works are being erected, it is expected that it will soon be lighted with gas. The foot-ways are neatly and durably flagged, the streets are clean, and the care of the magistrates keeps away beggars.

The magistrates of the place are a 'sovereign,' and a 'registrar.' There are several excellent walks about the town.

Water is supplied from a pool or reservoir called Lowry's Lough, on an eminence east of the city. Main and lateral pipes run through every street; but the water is not very good, owing to the preparation of flax in the surrounding district.

The chief trade is in linen, which is made in the country around, and brought into the town on the market-day (Tuesday), and sold by the weavers to the drapers for bleaching.

There are five fairs in the year. It is probable that the general depression of the linen trade has affected the prosperity of this place.

The population of the town, in 1821, was 8,493, and in 1831, 9,189: but the whole parish contains about three times that number. Armagh sends one member to parliament. Before the Reform Bill, the franchise was in the hands of twelve burgesses, self-elected, who returned the primate's nominee.

The see of Armagh is said to have been founded by St. Patrick in the fifth century, and was made an archbishopric in 1152. The archbishop bears the title of ‘Lord Primate and Metropolitan of all Ireland.’ The diocese was once divided into two parts, the English, now the upper, and the Irish, now the lower part.

It extends into five counties—Armagh, Londonderry, Louth, Neath, and Tyrone. The archbishop's province includes the sees of Dromore, Down and Connor, (united), Derry, Raphoe, Clogher, Kilmore, Ardagh, and Meath: the province of Tuam is to be incorporated with it whenever that see becomes vacant.

The chapter consists of a dean, precentor, chancellor, treasurer, archdeacon, and four prebendaries, with eight vicars choral. The see is valued in the king's books at £183, 17 shillings, 1 pence, and by the board of first-fruits at £400. The primate's income was estimated by Mr. Arthur Young, in 1779, at £8,000 per annum, and by Mr. Wakefield (1812) at £12,000: it was really £15,000, but is diminished by the Church Temporalities Act. He presents to sixty parishes in his own diocese, and to six parishes in other dioceses.

The number of benefices in the diocese has varied considerably, from the formation of unions and the erection of perpetual curacies. By the report of the commissioners of ecclesiastical inquiry in Ireland (dated April, 1831), it appears that there were then eighty-three benefices, sixty-eight consisting of single parishes or separate portions of parishes, and fifteen consisting of parishes or portions of parishes united. The diocese of Clogher, when vacant, is to be incorporated with that of Armagh.

Armagh is a rectory, being, with several other parishes, comprehended in a parochial union, in which six curacies (four of them perpetual) have been instituted. The living has been for a long time held by the dean of the cathedral.

The cathedral is the parish church; and there is another place of worship belonging to the establishment. There are also a Roman Catholic chapel and a Presbyterian meeting-house, both on a large scale; a place of worship for the Seceders; another for the Independents, and two Methodist meeting-houses.

There are several churches in the out-parts of the parish. One of them, at Grange, owes its erection to the munificence of primate Robinson. It is of white stone, and its tall spire makes it a handsome object.

Besides the county infirmary above-mentioned, there is a lunatic asylum for 106 patients of the counties of Monaghan, Cavan, Fermanagh, and Armagh.

A fever-hospital has been built, and is maintained at the expense of the present lord primate; a 'shop for the poor' has been instituted by some individuals of his family; and a mendicity subscription afforded relief in the year 1830 to 500 persons, to the amount of nearly £584.

Besides the royal foundation school there are several establishments for education, as, a chartered school for 20 girls, founded by Dr. Drelincourt; a school for fifty girls, supported by Lady Lifford, and two for eighty boys and as many girls, by the primate; and a Sunday school for 160 boys.

The whole number of children under instruction in the city, in 1821, was 1,071 (934 boys and 137 girls), and in the whole parish 2,319, viz., 1,899 boys and 420 girls.

Armagh formerly contained many monastic establishments. The priory of the regular canons of St. Augustin was said to have been founded by St. Patrick, and was, for some years, one of the most celebrated religious establishments in the world. There were a priory of the Culdees (Culdei or Colidei), who were secular priests, and served in the choir of the cathedral, their prior being a precentor there; a friary of Dominicans, and one of Franciscans.

In the early periods of its history the town was subject to many severe visitations. Conflagrations happened in the years 670, 687, and 778. In 832 the Danes plundered it; and in 839 they burned it to the ground with all its sacred edifices. On six other occasions in the same century it was laid waste by these barbarians.

The annals of the three following centuries abound with notices of plunderings or fires. During that period Armagh was plundered thirteen times; it has been burnt (partly or wholly) seventeen times. Probably no other town ever suffered such a succession of misfortunes.