Amid all the celebrations, shamrocks, and green beer it’s easy to forget that St. Patrick was a real man. In Northern Ireland you can easily follow St. Patrick’s footsteps. It’s all marked out for you in a 92-mile drive with 15 key sites. Or, you can just hit some of the highlights. When driving in Northern Ireland you might see these signs marking the trail.
Find the Trail in Downpatrick
Downpatrick, County Down, is good place to start, not only because it’s just outside Belfast and easy to get to, but also because it’s the home of the Saint Patrick Centre and the traditional burial site of the patron saint himself.
The Saint Patrick Centre is a multimedia exhibition site where you can learn the history of Saint Patrick. It’s a great place for kids but adults will enjoy it as well. Special events are often held at the centre. Even visiting online is educational. Go to www.saintpatrickcentre.com
Located on top of a hill, as most cathedrals are, is Downpatrick Cathedral. Next to the church is St. Patrick’s burial place, also said to hold the remains of St. Brigid and St. Columba.
There are more options, such as visiting the church at Saul two miles away, the site where St. Patrick first built his church. (The church building there was built in 1932 and the round tower is a replica.) St. Patrick is also said to have died in Saul on March 17. From that site you’ll get a glimpse of Slieve Patrick where a huge statue of the saint looks out over Strangford Lough and the Mourne Mountains. The statue was erected to commemorate the 1500th anniversary of St. Patrick in Ireland.
Visit the City of Saints and Scholars
Don’t miss Armagh, the city of saints and scholars, the ecclesiastical headquarters since St. Patrick’s day. The site of two cathedrals on opposite hill tops, you can visit both–the Roman Catholic St. Patrick’s Cathedral and The Church of Ireland’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Armagh’s historical significance as an important spiritual site predates Christianity. Eamhain Mhacha (or Navan Fort) at the city’s edge, is an ancient pagan site. Also you’ll want to see St. Patrick’s Trian to learn more about St. Patrick and Armagh.
Armagh has libraries and shops and cafes to explore as well.
Find the Trail to an Ancient ConventWhat would probably be off the beaten path for most tourists lies in Newry, a city bearing 6th century Christian presence. Two churches dating from the 11th and 15th centuries sit on a more ancient site, the monastery of St. Monnina, a contemporary of St. Brigid. St. Monnina established her Cill Sleibhe Cuilinn, The Church of Slieve Gullion or Killevey, in the mountainous country of south Armagh. A granite slab marks the believed grave of St. Monnina nearby and her holy well is close as well.
There are many sites and ruins you can visit on this driving tour that will bring to light the early Christian period of Ireland. You can learn more about them on the Discover Northern Ireland web site.
These are the most ancient of Celtic Christian sites to be found in Ireland, evidence that this part of Ireland was truly the path St. Patrick traveled.
Cindy Thomson is the author of Celtic Wisdom and Brigid of Ireland. She enjoys exploring Irish history, especially the Early Christian period. She has written numerous articles on Irish genealogy. Visit her blog Celtic Voices and her web site where you can sign up for her monthly newsletter.