Millions of people celebrate St. Patrick’s Day every year on March 17, with parades and cultural festivals taking place all round the world.
This year will be different. But with the prospect of a quieter March 17 comes the opportunity to focus on the stories behind St. Patrick and the places in Northern Ireland which have a direct link to him and his ministry.
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.
From Armagh, where he founded his first large church to his final resting place in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland is home to a number of experiences and places to visit which are synonymous with the Patron Saint.
With many of the locations less than two hours from Dublin, there is plenty of great inspiration for a short break, when it is safe to do so again.
Discover Northern Ireland has compiled this list of experiences and places to visit to help bring you closer to the man who is surrounded in so much myth and legend.
St. Patrick’s Way
- Starting at the Navan Centre in Armagh, this 82-mile (132km) signed walking trail connects key sites relating to St. Patrick and Christian Heritage. It takes you through some of Northern Ireland’s most spectacular scenic landscapes before ending at St. Patrick’s final resting place, in the grounds of Down Cathedral in Downpatrick. A special Pilgrim’s Passport aims to enhance your walking experience as well as acting as a recorded souvenir of your completed journey.
- Armagh is at the heart of celebrating the life of St. Patrick. The story goes he built a church here back in 445AD and claimed it to be the most holy church in Ireland. Today the city is the seat of both the Catholic Church in Ireland and the Church of Ireland, and is home to two impressive cathedrals named after St. Patrick. The twin-spired Roman Catholic Cathedral stands on a hill above the city. St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral faces it across the valley, resting on the site of the original stone church. A bit of a climb, both are worth it for the stunning city views. There is a middle-aged crypt beneath the Cathedral which houses a fascinating collection of stone carvings. (Both cathedrals only available to view from outside for now).
Downpatrick, Co. Down
- St. Patrick is buried at Downpatrick Cathedral and during his life had close connections to this part of County Down. Built in the 12th century, the site has been a place of pilgrimage for 1500 years. It was a short distance away at Saul where St. Patrick founded his first church in Ireland. Downpatrick is also home to the St. Patrick Centre, the only permanent exhibition in the world and regarded as the starting point for any visitor who wishes to know more about Ireland’s Patron Saint.
Struell Wells, Co. Down
- Just a short distance from Saul, stands the holy Struell Wells where it is said St. Patrick came to bathe. Legend has it he used to spend a great part of the night standing in the water singing psalms and spiritual songs. The site consists of two wells and two bathhouses making this one of the most extensive well complexes in Ireland.
Inch Abbey, Co. Down
- Inch Abbey is one of the best preserved abbeys in Northern Ireland and a Game of Thrones® filming location. Founded by John de Courcy, the buildings are mainly from the 12th and 13th centuries. John de Courcy is said to have commissioned a monk to re-write the legends of St. Patrick and some believe it was here that the story of St. Patrick banishing snakes from Ireland was written.
Slemish, Co. Antrim
- Slemish Mountain, close to Ballymena, is regarded as the first Irish home of St. Patrick. Legend tells us that Patrick was kidnapped as a boy by Irish pirates from his English home and taken to tend sheep on Slemish from the ages of 16 to 22. The central core of an ancient volcano, today it is popular with hikers and in previous years for the annual pilgrimage on March 17.
For more information on great places to visit when it is safe to do so, visit www.discovernorthernireland.com. Northern Ireland’s giant welcome will be here for you when the time is right.
(Main picture: Slemish Mountain)