Archbishop Richard Robinson‘s first architect was the Londoner Thomas Cooley (1740 – 1784), responsible for Dublin’s Royal Exchange / City Hall and several other important edifices in and around the capital.
Armagh Public Library
Armagh Public Library, designed by Thomas Cooley, is widely considered the jewel in the crown of Armagh City’s Georgian architecture. (photo – www.archiseek.com)
Originally the Cathedral Library, it was opened in 1771 as part of Archbishop Robinson‘s plans to establish a university, using his own collection as its nucleus.
The oldest library in Northern Ireland, it houses many medieval and later manuscripts, and is especially rich in C17th and C18th century books on theology, philosophy, law, medicine, history and travel, including Sir Walter Raleigh‘s History of the World (1614), the Claims of the Innocents (pleas to Oliver Cromwell) and Dean Jonathan Swift‘s own first edition of Gulliver’s Travels with his handwritten corrections.
The Greek inscription translates as “the healing place of the soul” (Photo by Ardfern)
A registered museum since 2001, the Library holds the Rokeby Collection of engravings by Piranesi, Hogarth and Bartolezi, Archbishop Marcus Gervais Beresford‘s collection of ancient Irish artefacts, such as stone axes, flint arrowheads and bronze implements, and what is claimed to be the only foreign flag ever captured on Irish soil.
Cooley’s early death made way for his protegé Francis Johnston (1760 – 1829), a native of Armagh who also left his mark on Dublin, most notably in the form of the GPO and Nelson’s Pillar.
The Archbishop’s Palace & Demesne
The Archbishop’s Palace, initially designed byThomas Cooley, was inhabited by Archbishop Robinson from 1770; completed by Francis Johnston, it remained the Primate’s official residence until vacated by Archbishop Simms in 1980, and now houses the offices of Armagh City & District Council. (Photo by Craobh Rua)
The Palace Demesne contains extensive gardens (popular for wedding photos) and several other interesting features:
The Palace Stables, a reconstructed Georgian stable block, was until recently a Heritage Centre where visitors could find out about a typical day in the life of the palace in 1776, but is currently closed to the public.
The Primate’s Chapel was built for Archbishop Robinson’s private use.
The Franciscan Friary, officially suppressed in 1542, continued to play a role in the religious life of Armagh for several years, but by 160o the buildings were in ruins. Two empty graves and two tombs recesses near the east end are reminders of the important medieval patrons buried in the Friary church, including Gormalith O’Donnell, wife of Domhnail O’Neill in 1353.
Significant local architects also included Coventry-born George Ensor of nearby Ardress House (father of the eminent liberal author and lawyer of the same name), who with his brother John was responsible for Dublin’s Rotunda complex and much of Parnell Square and Merrion Square; his principal monument is Armagh is the old City Hospital, designed in 1774, now home to QUB‘s Armagh Outreach Centre and the Irish & Local Studies Library, which provides useful resources for historians and geneologists, including a wide selection of old newspapers and pamphlets.
The Mall in the centre of Armagh can be attributed to Archbishop Robinson, who in the late C18th had what was then known as ‘The Horse Course’ and The Common, used for cock-fighting and bear-baiting, transformed into a more seemly public recreation area. The leafy oval space, over 400 yards long, features two solemn War Memorials, and has been described as one of Ireland’s most attractive urban parks.
The Mall is wide enough in the middle to accommodate a cricket pitch. The space was first used for cricket in 1845; Armagh Cricket Club was founded in 1859, and has had a clubhouse / pavilion here since 1911.
Facing each other from either end of the Mall are the Court House and the Gaol, sometimes referred to as the Gog and Magog of British justice in Armagh. A common witticism is that prisoners convicted at one end and being escorted to the other must have prayed for a short innings.
Armagh Courthouse, a pretty classical edifice designed by Francis Johnston, opened in 1809 and is still very much in use, as evidenced by the ugly fence and other security measures in place.
Armagh County Museum, housed in a small classical former meeting hall (1834) designed by William Murray on the East Mall, contains a varied legacy ranging from prehistoric artefacts such as carved pagan heads to antique household tools and items found in peat bogs, including vats of “bog butter”; these are displayed in a range of changing exhibitions throughout the year. The museum’s local history library is a valuable resource for researchers, with an extensive range of manuscripts, rolls, depositions, rental records, maps photographs and drawings, and also provides genealogy services.
The Royal Irish Fusiliers Museum in the Sovereign’s House on the Mall has innovative displays offering a fresh approach to the interpretation of Irish military history. A timeline of events in Armagh, Ireland and around the world puts regimental events into context. The Eagle Takers Gallery won the Best Exhibition in Ireland in 2003. Also on exhibition are the two Victoria Crosses won by the Regiment.
Of the fine (albeit somewhat shabby) townhouses lining The Mall, the most architecturally interesting are at Beresford Terrace (c.1825) and Charlemont Place (c.1830, designed by William Murray).
Armagh Gaol, designed initially by Thomas Cooley, and much extended in the 1830s by William Murray, later became HM Armagh Women’s Prison. The fiery Republican spokeswoman Bernadette Devlin was the most internationally famous inmate during the recent Troubles, which saw the edifice become the scene of a 1979 IRA gun attack that killed a prison officer, plus many protests, including the spreading of menstrual blood on the cell walls. Closed in 1988, and vacant since then, the building is due to be converted into a hotel. (Photo by Kenneth Allen)
The Royal School
The Royal School, Armagh, aka The College, was one of the five ‘free schools’ created by King James I in 1608; originally located at Mountnorris in south Armagh, it was established by Archbishop Robinson on its current 27-acre College Hill site in the 1770s. The school’s achievements in the academic, musical and sports fields make for impressive reading. (Photo by Toorak)
A Church of Ireland boys’ school from its inception, the Royal School was amalgamated with Armagh Girls’ High School in 1986 to become co-educational, “welcomes children of all faiths” and has 650 pupils “from the ages of 5 to 18 with accommodation for 90 boarders”. Every pupil is assigned to one of the four houses (Darcy, Rokeby, Beresford and Armstrong).
The “Barring Out” of 1823 involved a number of pupils arming and barricading themselves into a dormitory in protest at the cancellation of their usual Wednesday half-day holiday by the headmaster, Dr. Guillemard, as a result of the pupils’ failure to identify those responsible for placing an explosive device near the fire in the boarders’ common room. The doctor was in the habit of warming himself by this fire in the evening, and was blown across the room by the resulting explosion. The boys brought in bread, cheese, wine, whiskey, beer and pistols, before barricading themselves in. When the school caretaker attempted to break through, they shot at him. The local militia was called but took no action. After three days the boys surrendered and were soundly flogged by the same caretaker.
Former pupils, called Old Armachians, include Richard Wellesley, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and Governor General of India. (whose younger brother Arthur became the Duke of Wellington), Leonard Gillespie, appointed Physician-General to the fleet aboard HMS Victory under Admiral Lord Nelson in 1804, Viscount Castlereagh, British Foreign Secretary 1812-1822, Admiral Dreyer, Captain of HMS Iron Duke at the WWI Battle of Jutland, and Sir Reg Empey, Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (2005 – ).
Drelincourt School was founded on Navan St in 1738 with funds provided by Madame Drelincourt, widow of a former Dean of Armagh. In 1977 the school was relocated to the picturesque Folly River area in Armagh. It is a Church of Ireland Maintained Primary school which caters for children in the 4-7 age group in the Armagh area, irrespective of their religious affiliations.