Religious History

Armagh is not the only city to have two cathedrals. However, it is unlikely that any other city has two cathedrals dedicated to the same saint. This veneration of St. Patrick reflects the Christian heritage of Armagh and the history and tradition of the city itself. That relationship and the religious history of the city and wider archdiocese are reflected within the collection here in the Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich Memorial Library & Archive.

Patrick was doubtless attracted to Armagh because of the earlier, possibly royal, site at Eamhain Mhacha (Navan) located nearby. It was here that he built a church and healed the local chieftain Dáire when he had taken ill. In thanks Dáire presented the saint with the site on which today stands the Church of Ireland cathedral – Druim Saileach. On that site Patrick built his great stone church, An Damhlaig Mor, and around this grew the city of Armagh.


In the early Christian era Armagh provided a centre of learning, and a monastic settlement of some note grew up. Within this setting much of the life and works of Ireland's patron saint was recorded. The Book of Armagh is said to have been written here and is comprised of the earliest biographies of the saint along with a copy of his own work or Confession. The Book of Armagh also emphasised Armagh's claim to primacy within the Irish church.

The city of Armagh was later the birth place of St. Malachy, the twelfth century reformer, who became archbishop with the support of the emerging Cenél Eoghain. They would in time evolve into the great O'Neill dynasty that dominated Gaelic Ulster in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Following the sixteenth century reformation and the subsequent dissolution of the monasteries the site of Patrick's great stone church became the centre for the Protestant church both in Armagh and in Ireland. Ransacked and burned by the Irish it was gradually rebuilt by the emerging protestant archbishopric of Armagh over the next three centuries.

Roman Catholic worship in Armagh at the same time had to endure not only the impact of the reformation and the loss of its infrastructure but also an era of persecution under the penal laws. Oliver Plunkett, archbishop of Armagh, was martyred in 1681 and it was not until the period following Catholic Emancipation in 1829 that a new cathedral would be erected. Some of the relics of this era are preserved in the archive. These include a fine example of a penal cross from the 1780s and altar stones that were used for clandestine celebration of the sacraments.


Archbishop Crolly

William Crolly was installed as archbishop of Armagh in 1835. He immediately set about establishing a seminary in the city and oversaw an extensive programme of church building throughout the diocese. His lasting legacy, however, will be the fine Roman Catholic cathedral dedicated to St. Patrick. The Great Famine which caused widespread death and emigration across the country interrupted the building work and the archbishop himself died of cholera in 1849. The building work on the cathedral was to take another half a century to complete. It was officially opened and consecrated on 20 July 1904. Among the items here relating to the cathedral and its construction are the trowel used by Archbishop Crolly to lay the foundation stone in 1840 and the minutes of the building committee established to oversee the work.

The collections within this archive detail the growth and development of the Roman Catholic church in Armagh over the last 250 years and contain a wealth of material on the parishes and clergy of the archdiocese. There are also extensive collections relating to various church organisations and a data base of baptism, marriage and burial records spanning more than a century.

The Diocesan Collection
This collection includes the Archive from the Archdiocese of Armagh (1787-1963). As well as dealing with the everyday ecclesiastical and administrative life of the church the papers contain important records detailing relations between the Diocese and the British and Irish governments as well as the Vatican over the course of this period. Given the prominence of the Catholic Church in the religious, social and political life of the country its archives contain much essential information for anyone studying the major events of modern Irish history including Catholic Emancipation, the Great Famine, the Land War, Home Rule, the War of Independence and the creation of the Northern Ireland state. The collection also contains the Parish Archives of the Archdiocese.

The papers of several former Archbishops of Armagh and Primates of All Ireland are held in the archive. These include:

• Dr. Reilly [1787-1818]
• Dr. Curtis [1819-32]
• Dr. Kelly [1828-35]
• Dr. Crolly [1835-49]
• Cardinal Cullen [1849-52]
• Dr. Dixon [1852-66]
• Dr. Keiran [1866-69]
• Dr. McGettigan [1870-87]
• Cardinal Logue [1887-1924]
• Cardinal D'alton [1946-63]
• Cardinal O'Donnell [1924-27]
• Cadinal MacRory [1928-45]

Other church records relate to the day to day business of individual parishes within the archdiocese as well as communication between the archdiocese and Rome.

Cardinal Toms Fiaich Library
15 Moy Road
BT61 7LY
Northern Ireland

Tel: +44 28 3752 2981

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