Celebrating Saint Patrick’s Legacy in Armagh

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As part of the joint initiative carried out on St Patrick's Day by Armagh Observatory and Armagh Public Library visitors were invited to attend tours at the Observatory and to view the Library and No 5 Vicars' Hill during the afternoon. The final event included stargazing from the balcony at No 5.
Among those who attended this final part of the programme included a group of international students from Queen's University Belfast, organised by Ms Janet Chen. Pictured with the students and local Armagh people were the Very Revd Gregory Dunstan, Keeper of Armagh Public Library; Professor Mark Bailey, Director of Armagh Observatory; Dr Stephen Day, Registry Officer for No 5, and Library volunteer, Mrs Zena Dawson. (Picture credit: Ian Maginess)

The Armagh Observatory and the Armagh Public Library, two of Armagh’s oldest academic institutions, are working together on St. Patrick’s Day, Sunday 17th March, to provide an afternoon of guided tours and participative events to celebrate creativity, lifelong learning and research in St. Patrick’s City of Armagh. Also open will be St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral and No. 5 Vicars’ Hill, the former Diocesan Registry. Now owned by Armagh Public Library, No. 5 was built in 1772 to hold records for the Cathedral and Diocese of Armagh. These events, celebrating learning and creativity in Armagh, are being held as part of Creativity Month NI. If the sky is clear the joint programme of events will conclude with a special evening of stargazing from the balcony of No. 5, hopefully providing a view of Comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS).

Astronomers from the Observatory will be on hand that evening to explain the stars visible in the sky after sunset and how to find Comet PANSTARRS, which on St. Patricks’ Day will lie low in the western sky after sunset. Comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) is an exciting new celestial visitor to Earth’s near-space astronomical environment. Coming from the vast swarm of comets known as the Oort cloud, which surrounds the solar system and extends more than halfway to the nearest star, the comet is believed to be making its first passage through the inner solar system since Earth was formed some 4.5 billion years ago.

The Library and Observatory’s joint programme of events for St. Patrick’s Day has three main parts. First, St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral will be open from 12.30pm to 3.00pm, followed by Choral Evensong from 3.15pm to 4.00pm. A visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which can trace its origin to Patrick originally founding a church on the hill known as Drum Saileach in 445 AD, will provide a peaceful and spiritually refreshing contrast to the razzmatazz surrounding the St. Patrick’s Day Parade earlier that day and other events this St. Patrick’s Day holiday weekend.

Patrick’s founding of a church on the Hill of Armagh began the story of the Cathedral and of Armagh as one of the great centres of education and learning in Ireland, the site being associated with one of the principal Irish Monastic Schools and attracting students to Armagh from all over Europe. The plan of the Cathedral as it now stands is the enlarged design of Archbishop O’Scanlan in 1268. Although the church on this hallowed site suffered destruction on at least seventeen occasions, it was always restored, so maintaining an unbroken link to Patrick himself.

The second strand of this special programme of St. Patrick’s Day events involves the Armagh Public Library and No. 5 Vicars’ Hill, the former Registry. These historic buildings will be open to visitors from 2.00pm to 6.00pm. The Armagh Public Library — whose motto above the main entrance can be translated as "The Healing Place of the Soul" — is the oldest library in Northern Ireland. Archbishop Richard Robinson created the institution in 1771 as part of his plans to improve the City of Armagh and establish a university there. The nucleus of the collection is Archbishop Robinson’s own library on theology, philosophy, classic and modern literature, voyages and travels, history, medicine and law. The Library also holds a copy of the first edition of Jonathan Swift’s "Gulliver’s Travels", an important collection of sixteenth to nineteenth century prints, and the Observatory’s copy of the 1835 Ordnance Survey maps, which enable visitors to see how their townland, district or village looked all those years ago. Of particular interest on St. Patrick’s Day may be a set of original drawings by William Conor, who was commissioned to produce costume designs which were used for a pageant in 1932 to celebrate the fifteen-hundredth anniversary of the landing of Saint Patrick at Saul, County Down.

The recently restored Registry at No. 5 Vicars’ Hill is a beautiful building, famous for its octagonal rooms originally built to hold public as well as Church records. Some examples are on display as part of the Exhibition, which includes coins, gems, prints, early Christian artefacts and other collections and curiosities. There is a small collection of four-sided iron bells, which are characteristic of the early Irish Church. They were used in worship and are of a type that would have been familiar to Saint Patrick.

Those with an interest in the work of the Armagh Observatory, founded in 1789 by Archbishop Richard Robinson and Northern Ireland’s oldest scientific institution, are invited to a tour at 2.00pm of the Human Orrery, just south of the main Grade A listed Observatory building, and, at 3.15pm, to a guided tour of the Astropark.

The Human Orrery is a dynamic scale model of the solar system in which humans play the role of planets, comets and other celestial objects. This enables you to work out where the planets are tonight, or at any date, and in turn which stars and planets will be visible at night from Earth. A walk through the Astropark is a stroll through the Universe. The special St. Patrick’s Day walk will begin at the start of the Astropark beside the Sun and terrestrial planets, close to the Planetarium car park, and will continue at a leisurely pace through the planetary system at a speed corresponding to a scale distance where every three paces represents 100 million kilometres in space.

Leaving the inner solar system at Pluto, forty times farther from the Sun than the Earth, the walk continues through the Hypercube and, many times faster than light, up the "Hill of Infinity" to the start of our known Universe in the so-called "Big Bang" nearly 14 billion years ago. These Observatory events will conclude with a question-and-answer session in the Observatory’s library finishing at 5.00pm, which leaves visitors plenty of time to walk to No. 5 Vicars’ Hill for stargazing and views, if clear, of Comet PANSTARRS, beginning at 6.45pm.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT: John McFarland at the Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh, BT61 9DG. Tel.: 028-3752-2928; FAX: 028-3752-7174; E-mail: jmfat signarm.ac.uk.

Last Revised: 2013 March 21st