Our final day in Ireland was almost surreal for several reasons: 1) the weather was absolutely beautiful with not a cloud in the sky (not your typical day here) and although the early morning was chilly, the day warmed up quickly and by afternoon it was downright balmy. 2) We saw three more cathedrals, all more beautiful and/or significant than all the previous (if that’s possible). 3) We saw three of Ireland’s most historically important landmarks.
Up at 4:30 and chomping at the bit to get started, we checked out of our hotel in Carrickfergus and headed south on the M1 highway in the dark. The early start was a calculated attempt to avoid the Belfast morning rush… that was a good idea and even at that early hour, there were lots of commuters around the city.
First destination: the city of Armagh. It was here that St. Patrick established his first church in the mid-4th century. In modern times, Armagh has become the center for both Catholic and Protestant religion in Ireland. Therefore, there are two churches here; St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral and St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland. We arrived before either of them were opened so we found a little corner café that served breakfast and good strong coffee and waited for 8:30.
The first one we visited was the magnificent Roman Catholic Cathedral with its twin spires the tallest in the county. The sun was just coming up as we climbed the stairs. Every square inch of the interior walls and floors are covered with millions of 1 inch square mosaic inlaid tiles. Then there are the stained glass windows – and there are lots of them. Then there is the statuary and the priceless artifacts and so on. It is breathtaking. I really didn’t want to leave… but the other St. Patrick’s in Armagh also needed seeing.
St. Patrick’s Church has a more square look like a castle (not really) and is somewhat smaller than the catholic church… but no less incredible inside and with more historical artifacts of Ireland (sort of museum-ish). The windows, of course, are spectacular but there is a mosaic of the Last Supper that is particularly attractive as the halos of Jesus and the Disciples are made of mother of pearl… so different and so lovely.
Leaving Armagh, we continued south to the town of Monasterboice to see Ireland’s tallest high cross. At 7 meters it is completely impressive and must weigh several tons. We timed it perfectly and got the photos just before a bus tour of students arrived for a history lesson.
From there, we travelled just 15 minutes south to “Bru na Boyne”, a 5000 year old burial tomb in the area called Newgrange. It was astounding to hear and see how simple farmers of this land built this site out of hundreds of thousands of tons of rock… 6000 years ago! No photos allowed inside but we were escorted in by our guide and marvelled at the structure and wall art carved into the sandstone rocks. Nobody knows for sure what the purpose of it was (perhaps religious or sacrificial reasons) but it predates both the Pyramids and Stonehenge. Incredible history in this place and there are more than 40 other tombs in Ireland some similar in size and many smaller.
Next door to Newgrange is the city of Drogheda (busy and bustling) where we parked the car and strolled the streets to find several gems starting with St. Lawrence’s Gate – through which Cromwell ( in 1646 under Henry VIII) invaded Ireland and “took no prisoners”. We also saw Magdelene Tower (13th century) and St. Peter’s Cathedral with its three sparkling and huge circular stained glass windows. This is the only cathedral we visited with such grand circular windows.
And then we were done in Ireland and made our way to the Dublin airport where we dropped off our rental car. In total we had driven 1800 kms. Time now to make our way to Scotland for the next leg of our journey. Slán Ireland (goodbye in Gaelic). You were amazing beyond our wildest dreams.