The Little Book of Armagh

The Little Book of Armagh

by Barry Flynn

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The Little Book of Armagh is a compendium of fascinating, obscure, strange and entertaining facts about County Armagh. Here you will find out about Armagh's history, its proud sporting heritage, its castles and great houses and its famous men and women. You will also glimpse a darker side to Armagh's past with tales of poverty, famine and tragedy. Through quaint villages and bustling towns, this book takes the reader on a journey through the Orchard County and its vibrant past. A reliable reference book and a quirky guide, this can be dipped into time and time again to reveal something new about the people, the heritage and the secrets of this ancient country.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780750986250
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 11/13/2017
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 144
File size: 4 MB

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The creation of the Georgian city of Armagh can be attributed to one Lord Rokeby, Richard Robinson, who was born in Yorkshire in 1709, and served as the Dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, before being appointed as Church of Ireland Primate in 1765. He was from a wealthy background and was determined to use his affluence and power to found and maintain charitable and educational institutions, particularly within his adopted city of Armagh. He also wished to create a city that was fit to serve as the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, but he was dismayed by the state of Armagh in the 1760s; it consisted largely of mud huts and thatched cottages and the cathedral was roofed with shingles. Robinson's grand plan for Armagh was supported through public subscription and generous contributions from within his own fortune.

His Grace initially employed the services of the architect Thomas Cooley, who was responsible for the design of the Royal School, the Primate's Palace and the library. When Cooley died in 1784, Francis Johnston was appointed to continue the work. Johnston remains one of Armagh's most notable sons. He was a founder of the Royal Hibernian Society and was responsible for the design of the Armagh Observatory, the county courthouse and the museum. Robinson died in Bristol in October 1794, aged 85. His body was interred in the cathedral in Armagh, where a monument was erected to his memory. His portrait and bust were placed in the hall of Christ Church in Oxford, an institution to which he was also a generous benefactor.


The Battle of Clontarf took place on Good Friday, 23 April 1014, and saw the conclusion of two centuries of warfare between the Irish Celtic chieftains and the invading Norsemen, who had taken a firm foothold in Ireland. In Munster, Brian Boru had defeated the Viking armies on several occasions. His ultimate aim was to unite the Celtic kingdoms under one high king. In 1005, the king had donated 10 ounces of gold to the clergy in Armagh and decreed that the ancient city was the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland. It is estimated that between 7–10,000 men were killed in the battle, one of which was Brian Boru. It is said that Brodar, a Danish commander, retreated from the battle and his path led him directly to the hill upon which sat Brian Boru's tent. When he realised who was in the tent, he attacked it and killed Brian Boru and his old companion Conaing, who were on their knees, praying.

Prior to his death, the king had bequeathed his soul to God and willed that his body be buried in Armagh. As a funeral offering, the clergy of Armagh were provided with over 200 oxen. Boru's body was accompanied by his nephew to Swords in Dublin. The cortège made its way to Armagh through Duleek and the bones of Brian Boru are said to be buried in the North Wall of Saint Patrick's Church of Ireland Cathedral, Armagh, which dates back to medieval times. In the west wall of the north transept is a granite slab, placed there in 1914, commemorating the burial on the north side of the cathedral of Brian Boroimhe (Boru), High King of Ireland, in 1014.


The famous song, 'The Streets of Laredo', was inspired by many older songs, most famously 'The Bard of Armagh'. In that song, the bard is called 'the bold Phelim Brady', which was the name the bard went under as he tramped over the hills of South Armagh with a fiddle under his arm during times of persecution in the late 1600s. This strolling minstrel was Bishop Patrick Donnelly and it was by adopting this alter ego that the bishop was able to travel the county. Born near Cookstown, Donnelly was ordained in Armagh by Oliver Plunkett and was made a bishop in the months before the Battle of the Boyne. He served as a bishop for twentyfive years, during which he dressed in tattered clothes and visited fairs and markets, playing tunes and ministering to his flock. His 'palace' was a mud hut in Slieve Gullion. He died in 1716 and, under cover of night, he was delivered back to his native Tyrone to be buried.


I've known many greyhounds that filled me with pride, In the days that are gone, but it can't be denied, That the greatest and the bravest that the world ever saw, Was our champion of champions, great Master McGrath.

Armagh is justly proud of the achievements of the great Irish coursing champion, Master McGrath. Owned by Charles Brownlow, the 2nd Lord Lurgan, the greyhound was born in 1866 in County Waterford and was sired by Brownlow's coursing champion, Dervock. As a pup, he was considered underweight and was due to be put down, but was spared when a kennel boy named Master McGrath pleaded for the dog's life. The dog was given the name 'Master McGrath' and went on to become one of the most famous coursing greyhounds of his day, both in Ireland and England. Master McGrath was entered in England's prestigious Waterloo Cup in 1868, at just 2 years of age, and, against the odds, took the cup back to Ireland. In 1869, over 12,000 people gathered at Altcar to see Master McGrath beat the Scottish favourite, Bab-at-the-Bowster, in what many consider to be the greatest ever coursing match. The dogs were neck and neck until Master McGrath pulled ahead to achieve his second Waterloo Cup win.

With an epic third title in the offing in 1870, Lord Lurgan's greyhound lost the opportunity to win the triple crown when he fell through ice on the course while pursuing a hare and was narrowly saved from drowning. Lord Lurgan, who, along with scores of people in Lurgan, was said to have lost a fortune to the bookmakers that year, vowed that the dog would never course again. However, he relented and in 1871 the dog competed at the Waterloo Cup in Liverpool, where he was paraded before Queen Victoria, who is alleged to have fed the dog biscuits 'from her own hand'. Prior to travelling to Liverpool, it was said that Lord Lurgan had insured his greyhound for £6,000 in Belfast. In the event, Master McGrath made history when he won his third Waterloo Cup, beating his first cousin Pretender in the final. In all, Lord Lurgan won over £10,000 in prize money and retired his dog to stud after the event.

However, within a year, Master McGrath was dead. He died of heart disease which had already ended his career as a sire. During the postmortem, it was discovered that the greyhound had an unusually large heart, twice the size of a normal dog's.

Known by the pet name 'Dicksie' and in racing circles as 'The Immortal Black', he lost only once in thirty-seven courses and is commemorated by a stained glass window in Shankill Parish Church, Main Street, Lurgan. A Master McGrath sculpture, which had been commissioned by the Brownlow family in Lurgan, was gifted to the local council and erected outside the Civic Centre in 2013.


Home to the Church of Ireland Lord Primate of Armagh from 1770–1975, the Palace Demesne is located in an area of extensive parkland south of the centre of Armagh city. The palace was the main residence of the Church of Ireland Archbishops of Armagh and latterly the headquarters of Armagh City Council. On Monday, 15 September 1884, tragedy visited the house and Mrs Charlotte Henrietta Milner, daughter of Marcus Beresford, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland from 1862 until his death in 1885. Early in the afternoon of the day in question, Henry Davenport, a servant of the primate, was approached by a maid who told him that Mrs Milner was in a closet which was locked from the inside. The servant got a chair, looked through the fanlight and saw the woman hanging by a handkerchief, which had been tied to a window. Mrs Davenport, who was aged 50, had been widowed some years previously and was receiving treatment for depression from her doctor. The primate had been in poor health for a number of years and the sudden death of his daughter may have precipitated his own death in December 1885.


One of County Armagh's most famous culinary delights is Tayto cheese-and-onion potato crisps, which are produced in Tandragee, at the famous Tandragee Castle. Established in 1956 by the Hutchinson family, the product is world-famous and is one of the tastes of home yearned for by Northern Irish expatriates living far from home. At both George Best Belfast City Airport and Belfast International Airport, the famous red-and-yellow packets are prominently displayed in the arrivals areas as they are such a unique and popular local product. It is said that within Tandragee Castle, there is a closely guarded room where the inimitable Tayto flavour is created to the same recipe that has been used for the last sixty years. Only a select few know the secret recipe, which has been passed down from generation to generation to the current day.

The original Tandragee Castle is over 500 years old and was originally the home of the O'Hanlon clan. In 1619, King James I confiscated the castle from the O'Hanlon's and the ruins of the property were given to the Duke of Manchester (of the Montagu family) in the 1800s. The present incarnation of the castle was built in 1837. Despite holding large swathes of land in County Armagh, the Montagu family was bankrupted by the gambling of its 9th Duke, William Montagu. Born on March 1877, William Montagu was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, and succeeded his father when he was still a minor. The duke inherited a grand estate, which included lavish residences such as Tandragee Castle and Kimbolton Castle in Huntington, England.

In 1926, the family was forced to sell off much of its riches in Tandragee to cover its debts. On 6 September, a seven-day sale began at the castle which saw hundreds arrive by means of all kinds of conveyances, from Rolls Royces to donkeys, all keen to buy what they could of the opulent artefacts on offer. The castle contained a marvellous red marble entrance hall, together with an array of Turkish baths which were estimated to have cost £50,000 to install. In the castle, there were 150 rooms and the corridors were adorned with 150 yards of rich red Wilton carpet. It was reported that the building contained 'everything that art and science can suggest – libraries, pictures, furniture, carvings and a private chapel'. The auction was overseen by Mr Garnet Holt of Newry, who advised the press that there were over twenty chests of riches belonging to the family in London which could not be transported due to excessive costs.

The Montagu connection with Tandragee and Northern Ireland ended in 1955, when the 10th Duke sold the castle, which was in need of repair, to a visionary local businessman, Thomas Hutchinson. In 1956, Hutchinson saw a gap in the Ulster culinary market so he started making Tayto crisps, thus creating one of the world's best-loved brands of crisps and snacks. Tayto became one of the first companies to sell different flavours of crisps, with 'Smoky Bacon' and 'Prawn Cocktail' being two of the most popular, after the classic 'Cheese and Onion'.


If any player shall deliberately trip or hold an opposing player or deliberately handle the ball within twelve yards of his own goal-line, the referee shall, on appeal, award the opposing side a penalty kick, to be taken any twelve yards from the goal-line.

William McCrum's penalty proposal

As founder of the Mid-Ulster Football Association, William McCrum's contribution to the history of association football was not merely limited to administrative duties, as the following story illustrates.

The drama of penalty shoot-outs to decide soccer matches has kept many fans around the world on the edge of their seats as tournaments come to a climax. However, the 'sudden death' method was invented not in the hallowed halls of FIFA, but in William Street in Milford on an unassuming field in 1890.

William McCrum was born in 1865 and grew up in the Manor House in Milford, one of the most scientifically advanced homes in Victorian Ireland. It was one of first houses to use hydroelectricity and each of its many bathrooms was fitted with a Turkish bath. McCrum's family was affluent and William had the opportunity to become master of a range of sports. Frustrated by defenders who would trip or bring down forwards in association football, McCrum, or 'Master Willie' as he was known, felt that players and teams needed to be penalised to preserve the spirit of the game. His solution was a penalty kick, which has since entered into the psyche of the game. His ideal of a one-on-one battle of wits was introduced locally, but frowned upon by the powers that were. The English authorities were horrified at the 'Irishman's motion' or what they labelled the 'death penalty'. However, when the football authorities accepted the penalty kick (Law 13) in 1891, the game of football changed forever.

In 2001, the historic spot where William McCrum's idea was first realised was threatened by bulldozers when a planning application for sixty-four houses was proposed, a move which had locals up in arms. Although the field was used mainly for grazing, Joe McManus, chairman of the Milford Community Development Association, declared, 'This field should be sacred ground.' McManus, a local historian in Milford, added:

McCrum was the son of the village's founder and a goalkeeper with Milford Football Club. It was in 1890 that the talented shot-stopper dreamed up the idea. His proposal went to the Irish Football Association and then to England, where it wasn't thrown out, although it wasn't given much serious thought either. But then an incident happened in an FA Cup match between Stoke and Notts County and they had no hesitation in introducing 'McCrum's rule'.

However, life for William McCrum was not always a case of wine, roses and sport. His father died in 1915, leaving him a fortune of an inheritance, which he proceeded to squander on flash cars and in the bookmaking establishments of Armagh. The family mill was neglected, fell into disrepair and eventually closed, leaving William bankrupt and almost destitute. He died in 1932, addicted to alcohol, penniless and destitute in a boarding house in Armagh. For almost seventy years, his contribution to the most popular sport in the world was forgotten – until the builders were ready to move in on the historic field.

The field was to be preserved and eventually FIFA, acting on a request from its vice-president, Belfast man Jim Boyce, provided funding to renovate the grave of Mr McCrum in St Mark's graveyard in Armagh city. In 1999, Gary Lineker presented a documentary on the history of the dreaded penalty kick and stood over McCrum's grave and joked that, 'This man has a lot to answer for!' The field on which the world of association football was changed forever is now a public park with a sculpture to William McCrum as its centrepiece. The artwork was created in 2010 by the renowned Belfast artist D.P. Pettigrew and is adorned by informative panels which detail the significance of what occurred on the field.


On the front of Lurgan Town Hall on Union Street in Lurgan is a plaque dedicated to one of the town's most famous sons, Victoria Cross recipient William McFadzean. Born in 1895, McFadzean's act of bravery occurred on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916, close to Thiepval Wood, when bombs being opened for an attack slipped back into the trench, which was crowded with soldiers. Some of the safety pins fell out of the bombs, but McFadzean, threw himself on top of them just before they exploded, killing himself in the process but saving the lives of the other soldiers. Private McFadzean was awarded the Victoria Cross for his striking bravery, making him the first to receive the Victoria Cross prior to the actual Battle of the Somme beginning. His citation read as follows:

For most conspicuous bravery while in a concentration trench and opening a box of bombs for distribution prior to an attack, the box slipped down into the trench, which was crowded with men, and two of the safety pins fell out. Private McFadzean, instantly realising the danger to his comrades, with heroic courage threw himself on the top of the bombs. The bombs exploded blowing him to pieces, but only one other man was injured. He well knew his danger, being himself a bomber, but without a moment's hesitation he gave his life for his comrades.

Private McFadzean stood 6 feet tall and weighed 13 stone. His family moved to the Cregagh area of Belfast when he was still a child and a keen rugby player for Collegians RFC. He worshipped at the Newtownbreda Presbyterian Church, where a memorial service was held for him on 1 November 1917. A memorial tablet to his memory was unveiled. It bore the words, 'Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends'. His Victoria Cross was presented to his father William by King George V at a ceremony held in Buckingham Palace in February 1917. However, eyebrows were raised when William was allowed only the cost of a third-class return ticket from Belfast to London.


Excerpted from "The Little Book of Armagh"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Barry Flynn.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1. Individuals and Places of Note in the Orchard County,
2. Paupers, Poverty and Famine,
3. A Proud Sporting Heritage,
4. A Seat of Holy Learning and People,
5. Tales from the Courthouse,
6. Political Strife in the Orchard County,
7. Miscellaneous Items of Interest from Armagh,
8. Tales of Tragedy in Armagh,

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