St. Patrick's Cathedral

Armagh's monastic heritage begins with Patrick. Although he wasn't a monk, his lifestyle was not dissimilar. He disdained the things of this world, and fasted and prayed instead. Patrick advocated these practices for his followers, which they duly adopted.

In Patrick's time, Armagh is a powerful administrative region, so the choice of it as the centre of the new evangelising operation has obvious advantages. Patrick is granted the site of his church, the Damhliag Mór, by Dáire, the local chieftain.

Dáire's tribe, the Uí Nialláin, continue to exert a strong influence over the clerical sphere in the coming generations.

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Patrick's first religious foundations in Armagh are for women. In time they come to be known as Teampall Bhríde and Teampall na Fearta. These are hostile, hazardous times for Christians, especially women, and the natural instinct is to band together for protection and support.

The move towards monasticism for men happens after Patrick, in the time of Benignus, his first Irish disciple and successor to the see of Armagh. The see is administered by a group of clergy who form themselves into a community, which becomes known as the Samhadh Pádraig.

Like monasteries elsewhere, Armagh begins life as a simple settlement, made up of an enclosure with wooden cells, a refectory, a kitchen, a library and a scriptorium. At its centre is the stone church, the Damhliag Mór.

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From the sixth century onwards, Armagh flourishes as a place of learning and pilgrimage. So many foreign students arrive that part of the city becomes known as 'Third of the Saxons'. The monastery becomes increasingly wealthy and influential: Cormac, the third successor of Patrick is both abbot of the monastery and bishop of the diocese. This arrangement holds over the course of the next two and a half centuries.


Armagh's status is tempting to marauding raiders, and it is plundered throughout the eighth, ninth and tenth centuries by the Norse, and also hostile Irish chieftains. In spite of these indignities, the good work continues. The scribe Ferdomnach produces the illuminated gospel, the Book of Armagh, one of several jewels in the crown at the monastery. Also, there are the great relics of St Patrick, jealously guarded, and used for ceremonial occasions and peace missions: Patrick's crosier - the Bachall Íosa, St Patrick's Bell and the Canóin Phádraig, containing his biographies and his Confession.

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The abbots of Armagh are important men outside of their communities, intervening in quarrels between rulers and acting as guarantors of treaties. From the seventh century onwards, they seek to enhance the status and authority of the religious foundation at Armagh, not just in terms of its immediate locality, as within the whole of Christian Ireland.


Abbot Dubhdáleithe (965-98) goes on circuit, as others have done since the eighth century, to collect dues and offerings from other religious houses. Armagh's claims to primacy are pushed into Munster, when a friendship is forged with the Dal Cais king. This relationship is further strengthened in the following century when Brian Bóraimhe, the High-King of Ireland, visits Armagh in 1005 and places twenty ounces of gold on St Patrick's altar. After his death at Clontarf in 1014, his body is brought to Armagh for burial. It is a defining moment for the primal see.

With the arrival of the Normans, the diocesan power recedes from the monasteries into the hands of Norman-appointed bishops, but the work of Armagh's abbots over the previous centuries ensures that primacy will forever reside in this part of Ireland.

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 St. Patrick