Armagh is the county town of County Armagh in Northern Ireland, as well as a civil parish. It is the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland – the seat of the Archbishops of Armagh, the Primates of All Ireland for both the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland. In ancient times, it and nearby Navan Fort (Eamhain Mhacha) was one of the great royal capitals of pagan Gaelic Ireland. Today it is home to two cathedrals and the Armagh Observatory.
Although classed as a medium-sized town, Armagh was given city status in 1994 and Lord Mayoralty status in 2012, both by Queen Elizabeth II. Its population of 15,000 makes it the least-populated city in both Northern Ireland and on the island of Ireland, and the fourth smallest in the United Kingdom.
Eamhain Mhacha (or Navan Fort), at the western edge of Armagh, is believed to have been used as an ancient pagan ritual or ceremonial site. According to Irish mythology it was once the capital of Ulster, until it was abandoned during the 1st century. The site was named after the goddess Macha, and as the settlement grew on the hills nearby, it was also named after the goddess – Ard Mhacha means "Macha's height". This name was later anglicised as Ardmagh, which eventually became Armagh.According to tradition, when Christianity spread to Ireland during the mid-400s, Armagh became the island's "ecclesiastical capital", as Saint Patrick established his principal church there. Saint Patrick was said to have decreed that only those educated in Armagh could spread the gospel. According to the Annals of the Four Masters, in the year 457:
Ard Mhacha was founded by Saint Patrick, it having been granted to him by Daire, son of Finnchadh, son of Eoghan, son of Niallan. Twelve men were appointed by him for building the town. He ordered them, in the first place, to erect an archbishop's city there, and a church for monks, for nuns, and for the other orders in general, for he perceived that it would be the head and chief of the churches of Ireland in general.
The Book of Armagh came from the monastery. It is a 9th-century Irish manuscript now held by the Library of Trinity College, Dublin (ms 52). It contains some of the oldest surviving specimens of Old Irish.
Brian Boru is believed to be buried in the graveyard of the St. Patrick's Church of Ireland cathedral. After having conquered the island during the 990s, he became High King of Ireland in 1002, until his death in 1014.
Armagh has been an educational centre since the time of Saint Patrick, and thus it has been referred to as "the city of saints and scholars". The educational tradition continued with the foundation of the Royal School in 1608 and the Armagh Observatory in 1790. This was part of the Archbishop's plan to have a university in the city. This ambition was finally fulfilled, albeit briefly, in the 1990s when Queen's University of Belfast opened an outreach centre in the former hospital building.
Three brothers from Armagh died at the Battle of the Somme during World War I. None of the three has a known grave and all are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme. A fourth brother was wounded in the same attack.
On 14 January 1921, during the Irish War of Independence, a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) sergeant was assassinated by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Armagh. He was attacked with a grenade as he walked along Market Street and later died of his wounds. On 4 September 1921, republican leaders Michael Collins and Eoin O'Duffy addressed a large meeting in Armagh, which was attended by up to 10,000 people.