That title does sound like an oxymoron, but my travels in Northern Ireland, a constituent of the United Kingdom, had been focused on Derry and Belfast, and the cathedrals which could be reached from them. Heading into the more southern counties of Ulster, I was able to cross the border again (twice) before making my last trip from Northern Ireland into the Republic during my last three days in Ulster.
Leaving the Maldron in Belfast, it was a miserable, rainy day. I headed south by bus to Newry, where I visited two churches. Crossing the river from the bus centre, I was able to leave my gear at the Canal Court Hotel there, and used the umbrella to keep somewhat dry.
The Roman Catholic Cathedral of St Patrick and St Colman was the first cathedral consecrated following the institution of Catholic Emancipation, ending the religious suppression. Made of local granite, it is large and impressive. I was particularly impressed by the elaborate tile work on the walls and floors.
While the cathedral was being built in the 1820's, the local Church of St Mary acted as the cathedral - the term is pro-cathedral. It still stands and functions as a parish in Newry, but after the three-quarter mile walk, I found it locked.
Returning, I queried for any other local cathedrals, and discovered one that I hadn't included in my plans. Off across the border, in Dundalk, was an ex-cathedral, which is a former cathedral, most likely due to diocesan consolidation.
While at the St Patrick's Church, I had to be careful taking pictures as a young child was being baptized. I make an earnest effort to not include children in my photos, and several were running loose while their cousin was joining the Church.
I dropped into the Spotted Dog and had a lunch of fish and chips. My journal notes that the Land's End yellow slicker I've had since my 2017 bicycle trip down the Danube was no longer waterproof - probably washed out in the laundry!
Returning to Newry, I collected my gear and caught the bus to Armagh, with the heavy rains continuing. Plugging my phone into the bus' charging system, I spent the trip clearing emails and getting my phone up to a more comfortable power level. The terrain was quite hilly, with hedgerows being used as borders between fields, rather than stones. I had supper at the Charlemont Hotel, my lodgings: a double Glenfiddich, carrot and parsnip soup, and the ham and turkey dinner special. Following my photo backup, I checked the watch and had 11,723 steps.
Sunday, 4 September was my day in the ecclesiastic center of Ireland. Following the instructions of St Patrick, both the Roman Catholics and the Church of Ireland have their primates based in Armagh. My day started with a rather tepid shower, as the hot water heater was on the fritz. Breakfst was included, so I had OJ, poached eggs, and crisp bacon with coffee. To start the day it was sunny and in the 50's (F).
Off to the Church of Ireland's Cathedral and Metropolitan Church of St Patrick where I initially got my outside shots, despite awkward parking by parishioners.
While I took my inside shots I met Canon Kennedy, who invited me to stay for service. He officiated and preached on the establishment and ritual of the Eucharist. A mens and boys choir, with a superlative countertenor, made the 75 minutes delightful.
Then I was off to the Roman Catholic's St Patrick's Cathedral. Sixty-three steps, 63-feet both tall and wide, there was a lot of stenciling inside, with tiling and mosaics abound.
Late Mass began, so I stayed. As the celebrant was, I'm guessing, from the Caribbean, I missed much of his sermon, which was on the efforts to be a Christian follower. Perhaps 100 folks in attendance, I was able to get my pictures and then head to the Mall.
At the mall I was booked for a 90-minute walking tour with Donna Fox, joining a pair of women from the north coast of Ireland; a second couple didn't show. She had the microphone and headphone setups which she didn't use, so the only time I missed commentary was when she was leading. Donna's focus was on architecture and city history, so I didn't get too many shots, but I enjoyed. Apparently Armagh was an important pagan site, as a tree/horse goddess was based there. St Patrick asked King Darafor the hill after converting him, and eventually was able to build a cathedral there.
A possible visit was in my itinerary: Moneghan is to the south, across the border, and I found buses which would get me there with time to see the cathedral.
While waiting at the bus stop, I stopped and got KFC tenders (only store within sight). The bus arrived and I was on a 30 minute ride with a 45 minute turnaround. We were a bit late into Moneghan, Google Maps said it was a 20 minute walk, so I tried to get a taxi. The cab driver finally showed up 10 minutes before the bus was due to leave to return to Armagh. So I have a picture of the steeple as a placeholder.
On my return, I walked through the hotel and headed back to both cathedrals, with hopes of getting setting sun photos. The CoI property was locked behind gates, and the RC church's location on that steep hill meant little joy. I went into Dante's restaurant and had BBQ chicken wings, an "inferno" pizza (chorizo, pepperoni, njuda, jalapenos and garlic oil) with a Guinness and a glass of water. Bowing to pressure, I ordered a sticky toffee pudding, which I had about half of. Back in the room I had 10,193 steps.
Monday morning and I was ready to change locations. For breakfast I had OJ, coffee and an egg and bacon sandwich. Big news then was the new British PM had been selected. The weather was again stunning, and after I finished packing, I was off down the hill to get my bus tickets for the day. First stop would be in Dungannon, where I was to wait about an hour for the bus to Clogher. However, we made brilliant time, and I was able to transfer immediately to the next bus and get into town an hour ahead of plan.
The bus stop was about a half mile down a hill from the walled churchyard. I'd tried communicating with the rector, but my last message got an autoreply indicating she was on leave.
The Cathedral of St Macartan was locked up tight. I left my bags just inside the gate and proceeded to take shots as I walked around the graveyard. Hoping that a sexton might appear, I waited an hour (in the shade) before returning to the bus stop and catching the next to Enniskillen.
The route passed through a number of small towns, the most interesting (name) being Fivemiletown. Once the bus began pulling though Enniskillen, it took 3-5 minutes before it reached the bus centre. It took me about 20 minutes over rough sidewalks and chancy intersections to reach my lodgings, the Westville Hotel. I resolved to use a taxi to get to the bus the following day. The facility is nice, with the reception staff pushing booking a dinner reservation. I passed, but set a time for the included breakfast the following morning.
Returning into town, I had to climb a hill to reach the cathedral.
The Cathedral of St Macartan is at a weird angle to the street, making it difficult to find that optimal shot. As I was climbing through the graveyard, two men in leathers arrived on their motorcycles, effectively photobombing me. After attempting the strategic positions with grave markers to block their hardware, I went inside. The men are from Northern Ireland, Anglican, and interested in the memorials to soldiers who fought in the twentieth century, as the church was constructed during the period of the Boer War.
Per the tourist office, the bishop is based in both the Clogher and Enniskillen cathedrals. This building has active galleries (nice views of the nave and sanctuary) which were obviously added after the stained glass windows - they were blocked from full view. The organ console is old, and there are symbols of castles throughout the carvings - an indication of the fact that Enniskillen is a series of islands at river junctions.
Crossing the street, the Roman Catholic church of St Michael was large and imposing from the outside, but not particularly interesting from inside. I visited the tourist office to get maps, and then walked the outside of the castle. In the distance was a tower - The Cole Monument - which begged to be climbed, but I, for once, deferred. Instead I popped ito Pat's Bar and had a Guinness.
Okay, there's a gap in my notes of about an hour, but I must have moved to The Firehouse to have dinner. Starting with Dead Rabbit, an Irish whiskey and a Guinness, I ordered Beef Burnt Ends: maple bourbon glaze, bacon crumb, overnight beef brisket, mac&cheese, and a rocket salad. My waitperson was a lovely lass, who spelled out her name as I never would have managed: Orfhlaith Clar Brown.
The whiskey was a 5 year old, aged in bourbon cask, a definite flavor tell. The burnt ends were in a gravy in a hot skillet: fall apart tender and richly flavorful. The mac&cheese was separate from the meat, had rich flavors and went well with the whiskey. The salad (known in the US as arugula) was tasty, loaded with parmesan, but too much red onion. the kitchen was open behind a half wall with 2 chefs working - heat lamps not in evidence, so the staff were moving food timely!
Back to the hotel, I backed up the photos and did email. (Steps: 11,184) My sleep wasn't very restful, probably due to low hydration and too much alcohol. (I continued to have a snort of the Oban while working the Chromebook.) After my morning rituals and breakfast, I'd taxi to the bus centre and then head off to Sligo in the Republic of Ireland.