Categories: ArtsCulture & Heritage

St. Patrick’s legacy is part of the fabric of Northern Ireland – enshrined in churches, cathedrals and the many abbeys, high crosses and round towers that evoke his time and his history. More than 1,600 years after his birth, myths, legends and stories about him live on in the land that he converted and loved. So, whatever your interest, there’s always more interesting facts to discover about St Patrick. 

Following in St. Patrick’s footsteps 

A great place to start is the 92-mile linear driving route that takes you round 15 key sites with links to St. Patrick’s life and Northern Ireland’s Christian heritage. 

The North Down Museum 

The first port of call is the North Down Museum which holds important manuscripts from the early Irish Church. Pilgrims come here from all over the world to see the spot St. Columbanus set out from to revive Christianity in Europe during the Dark Ages. 

Bangor Abbey 

Then it’s on to the 6th century Bangor Abbey, founded by Saint Comgall – once one of the most important seats of learning in Ireland with almost 3000 monks. 

The ruined Grey Abbey, along the peninsula, is one of the finest examples of Anglo-Norman ecclesiastical architecture you’ll see. Its recreated medicinal herb garden is definitely worth a visit – and you can buy the plants. 

Explore more in Downpatrick 

A ferry ride from Portaferry to Strangford takes you right to the heart of St. Patrick’s country.  

Here, the quaint and peaceful Saul Church (said to be the first ecclesiastical site in Ireland) is where Saint Patrick began his mission to convert the locals. Just three miles away is his burial place in the magnificent Down Cathedral. He’s believed to have sung psalms at Struell’s holy wells – today known for their healing powers. And the ruins of St. Tassach’s church near Raholp is where he received the last rites. 

Onto the Cistercian Inch Abbey, founded in 1180 by John de Courcy, who led the 1177 Anglo-Norman Invasion of Ulster. Then The Saint Patrick’s Centre where you can hear Patrick’s own words, drawn from a confession made near the end of his life in a fascinating interactive experience. Nearby Down County Museum, a Georgian county gaol, houses a collection of early Christian artefacts and material relating to the saint. 

Bagenal’s Castle, Newry 

St. Patrick’s legacy can also be seen here in the ruins of the Cistercian Abbey founded in 1157. Though not much remains today, excavations uncovered a 12th century slab of granite bearing a Celtic cross. 

Armagh - the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland. 

Traditionally the seat of both the Catholic and Church of Ireland archbishops, Saint Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral occupies the hilltop site of the saint’s original church. Centuries later, St. Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral, with its magnificent stained glass windows, was built on the opposite hilltop. Though work commenced on it in 1840, it was suspended due to the great famine and not consecrated until 1904. 

A tour through museums and libraries 

Armagh County Museum is a treasure trove of artefacts and archaeological material bearing witness to Armagh’s leading role in early Christian Ireland. 

No. 5 Vicar’s Hill, opposite the main entrance door to St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, is the former home of the Diocesan Registry which held the Church records. Some of these are still on display, along with ancient coins, gems and old Armagh maps. 
 
And, at the Archbishop Robinson Library, books line the walls from floor to ceiling. It was built so that the public could enjoy the 18th century Archbishop’s own collection of books, art and papers on Christian heritage in Ireland and Europe.  

Slemish Mountain, County Antrim 

Though much of Saint Patrick's story centres round Armagh, Downpatrick and County Down, Slemish Mountain played an important part in his early years. Captured as a boy, legend has it that he was forced to tend sheep and pigs as a slave on Slemish. Nowadays walkers climb the mountain in his memory and to share his experience of the wildness, serenity and beauty of the local countryside. 

Though he escaped and returned to his family in Britain, it wasn’t long before a vision prompted him to return to Ireland and begin his Christian mission.  

Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day 

St. Patrick’s Day is a day of fun, celebration, parades, carnival floats and so much more – and one with the power to turn many parts of the world, and some pints, green for a day. 

As you’d expect, Armagh is at the heart of it all with ‘The Home of St. Patrick Festival’, a lively celebration of his life, with music, song, dance and endless cultural fun. 

The Ulster American Folk Park 

The Ulster American Folk Park gets in on the celebrations too with traditional music, dance and food for the whole family. You can also hear the poignant tales of how the emigrants who journeyed across the Atlantic brought their St Patrick’s Day traditions, and their memories of home, with them. 

The Ulster Folk Museum, Cultra 

The Ulster Folk Museum too enjoy the day with a festive family ‘hooley’. There’s entertainment from traditional musicians and Irish dancers and a chance to learn about traditional crafts, such as basket making, tweed weaving, straw rope making and blacksmithing. Food enthusiasts too get the traditional experience with open-hearth baking and champ, potato bread and drop scones. 

Of course, these are just some of the ways in which the legacy of this man and saint are carried on today. There are many more reminders of his life and times that you’ll no doubt discover on your own Northern Ireland adventure.