The Development of Astronomy at Armagh

An Exhibition at the Armagh Observatory to mark the Archive Awareness Campaign:
Routes to Roots
6 - 11 September 2004

(European Heritage Open Days Press Release - PDF Format)

See also:
The Archives of Armagh Observatory
Rare Book Collection
Historical Instrument Collection


Armagh Observatory: the early years
Armagh Observatory: the modern era
Current research

1. Introduction

Richard Bartlett's Map Fig.1 Richard Barlett's map of Armagh c. AD 1600
(National Library of Ireland).

The roots of the cathedral city of Armagh stretch back almost 4,000 years. It is said that the name Armagh is a derivative of Ard Mhacha (Hill of Macha) in commemoration of an ancient queen. In the 4th century BC, another Queen Macha established the settlement Emania (Navan Fort). The position of Armagh as the Christian centre of Ireland was established with the arrival of the missionary, Patrick, in the middle of the 5th century AD. So began the millennial reign of Armagh as the city of Saints and Scholars.

The Book of Armagh, a Latin manuscript now retained in the Trinity College Library, Dublin, was a product of the early years of the 9th century. Information relating to Patrick the evangelist collected in the 6th century is among its contents. Armagh became the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland during this period, ultimately achieving archbishopric status in the 12th century.

The earliest astronomical observations made at Armagh appear to have been recorded in the Annals of Ulster during the Middle Ages. These include appearances of comets and the occurrences of eclipses.

Archbishop Richard Robinson Fig.2 Archbishop Richard Robinson
by Angelica Kaufmann
(Public Library, Armagh).

Armagh was destroyed twice by fire in the 7th century AD. By the second half of the 18th century, when Archbishop Richard Robinson arrived, Armagh had fallen into a state of near dereliction. Robinson was keen to redress the situation and establish a university of Ulster in Armagh.

Robinson was responsible for the construction of many of the classical buildings that remain in the city today. Among these may be counted the Archbishop's Palace, the Public Library, the Royal School, the former City Hospital, and the Armagh Observatory (his last completed building).

Aerial view of Armagh Observatory Fig.3 A view of Armagh Observatory, 1996.

This aerial photograph of the Armagh Observatory was taken about seven years after the re-landscaping of the Observatory grounds which took place prior to the 1990 bicentenary celebrations.

Last Revised: 2009 November 25th