BY TIM HEDGLEY, GROUP TRAVEL EDITOR
Armagh is preparing to stage an epic three-weekend long, mega-festival event from March 24-April 3.
The Armagh Fusion Festival is a major celebration of Armagh’s rich history, heritage and culture, bringing together artistic activity, events throughout the city and neighbouring apple orchards.
This one-of-a-kind festival brings locals and visitors together to experience unique collaborations and imaginative fusions.
There is an array of fantastic events taking place such as The Greatest Show – Cirque du Cider –a series of captivating circus shows featuring aerial performances and jaw-dropping circus skills; the Faces and Places Legendary Guided Walking Tour of the city; a Ceilidh Fusion at The Johnston Building, Bowling and Brunch at Armagh Cider Company; ‘Art after Dark’ which showcases the city’s unique creativity at a variety of legendary venues; and an epic Fire and Light show fused with art and music at Armagh Observatory and Planetarium.
If Armagh Fusion Festival sounds like something you and your family would be keen to attend, Discover Northern Ireland has put together a list of what to do, where to stay and where to eat when there.
Where to stay…
Whether it is a beautiful five-star guest house, a touch of luxury in one of the stunning hotels or simply a relaxing break in a cosy cottage you are after, Armagh has an option for every type of staycation.
The award-winning five-star Blackwell House nestles peacefully among rolling hills. Each of its 6 individually decorated rooms, furnished with family heirlooms and handcrafted pieces, hides a surprise including an orchard view from one and art deco decadence in another.
In the picturesque conservation village of Loughgall, just a 10 minute drive to Armagh City, Molly’s Barn is purpose-built for holiday getaways. Catering for five people, it means you have the house to yourself and can come and go as you please, perfect for enjoying the festivities Armagh Fusion Festival has to offer.
Close to the Blackwater Heritage Trail and the historic villages of Tynan and Caledon, four-star College Hall Cottage is on a family run working farm and part of the original farm building. Walkers, cyclists and anglers feel right at home here in the spacious rooms. With its own boarding kennels, dogs are accommodated too. As are your bikes, with storage facilities available.
Where to eat…
Armagh is made for wandering around and you know how that works up an appetite. Luckily, there are any number of first-rate restaurants where you can refuel – whether you’ve got little people to please or you are after a romantic meal for two.
The charming stone-built Mulberry Bistro sits opposite the city’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a spectacular backdrop for any meal. But it’s not just the view that looks good enough to eat. Locally sourced produce finds its way on to the menu every day, stopping in the kitchen just long enough to be transformed into delicious homemade dishes.
The Uluru Bar & Grill has a distinctly Aussie flavour. They’re always ready to spark the (indoor) barbeque which could just spark your passion for Australian cuisine.
A firm favourite with locals, the Uluru crew put their success down to the secret ingredient behind their Josper Charcoal Grill. Pop in for a meal and see if you’re up to the challenge.
If the reviews are anything to go by, The Embers is as well-known for its friendly staff as it is for its tasty food. Another city centre option, this affordable family run grill bar knows just what families, and indeed all hungry visitors want.
If you’re after more local flavour, Keegan’s Bar & Restaurant is a traditional public house. The great locally sourced food it serves comes with side of that indefinable ‘craic’ with live music played most of the time.
A little further afield, there’s eating and drinking in Digby’s Bar and Restaurant, an award-winning gastro pub. You’ll find it on the tree-lined main street of Killylea, just six miles south of Armagh city. It started life in 1910 as a pub and greengrocers and it’s been in the family ever since.
What to do…
Armagh is big on adventure, so when you have taken advantage of all Armagh Fusion Festival has to offer, you will find there is still more to discover.
The hilltop cathedrals that overlook Armagh city are both dedicated to St. Patrick. This is where he founded his original stone church in 445AD. Today, Armagh is the ecclesiastical capital, the seat of two Archbishops, the Roman Catholic and the Church of Ireland Primates of Ireland.
For heavenly bodies of another sort, nothing beats a trip to Armagh Observatory and Planetarium. A leading centre for astronomical research, it’s also a star attraction for kids. Look out for the largest meteorite in Ireland, it weighs 152kg, and check out the digital theatre, a window to the wonders of the universe.
Come back down to earth and visit Navan Fort or Emain Macha. A former pagan ceremonial site, it’s been the ancient seat of Kings, Ulster’s earliest capital, and the sacred stronghold of legendary heroes Cuchulainn and the Red Branch Knights. It’s hard to imagine all that’s gone on here, but you don’t have to. You can live the history here with an interactive experience that allows you to get up close and personal with the Celts.
You may have spotted that you don’t get very far in Armagh without meeting a Bramley Apple. From blossom to bottle is the promise of the Armagh Cider Company, the Troughton family have been growing apples on their farm near Portadown for four generations.
Inspired by the Rev. W Brooke who, in 1682, wrote from Portadown that cider was being sold at 30 shillings a barrel, they decided to revive the art and created their own top quality, hand-crafted cider. They’d be delighted to welcome you for a tour and a tasting. So, you can put that claim to the test.
Take a hike to Slieve Gullion, Ireland’s Mountain of Mystery. The Forest Park offers walking trails, a scenic drive, an Adventure Playpark, Giant’s Lair children’s story trail and Courtyard with coffee shop. Rising some 576m above the surrounding countryside, the broad slopes of Slieve Gullion dominate the landscape of south Armagh. The mountain itself lies at the centre of a pronounced ring of hills, the Ring of Gullion.
The Ring of Gullion region offers a host of activities and attractions for families, couples, groups of friends and visitors of any age, who want to get away from it all, explore unspoilt landscapes and enjoy a real sense of well-being.
If that’s left you with a taste for further adventures, there are plenty more in store.
For more inspiration, visit Discover Northern Ireland at www.discovernorthernireland.com
Always follow current COVID-19 travel advice and guidelines before planning and while visiting.
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