Text Box: Armagh
Northern Ireland      by Misha Davenport
Ask anyone who has ever been to Ireland where they've been and you'll inevitably find that they haven't really been to Ireland. Not all of it, anyway.
Sure, they might have kissed the Blarney Stone, shared a few pints with the locals in a Dublin pub and even drove the Ring of Kerry, but few American travelers have ever bothered to venture outside of the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland.
Yes, the Emerald Isle is actually two countries. Ireland won independence from Great Britain in 1921, when 26 of the 32 counties voted to form the commonwealth of the Irish Free State. The six remaining counties formed Northern Ireland and, in theory at least, remained loyal to the British crown.
In 1949, the IFS broke off all commonwealth ties and declared itself the Republic of Ireland.
Tensions between the two countries have settled, but the area is still perceived as a dangerous place -- thanks to years of religious warfare on the part of militant Protestant and Catholic groups.
I never felt safer touring Northern Ireland, though. There is splendor awaiting discovery.  One of many important sites is Armagh.
Ireland is often referred to as the island of saints and scholars and you can credit the city of Armagh (located in County Armagh) for that. Armagh is Ireland's oldest city and has managed to side-step all politically charged religious issues to declare itself the "ecclesiastical center of Ireland." The heartbeat of Christianity -- Catholic and Protestant -- beats both loudly and proudly in Armagh.
The city is home to the archbishops of the Roman Catholic Church of Ireland and the Church of Ireland and both churches have cathedrals located on facing hills named St. Patrick's. The older, more plainer looking church is the Anglican (Protestant) church. St. Patrick himself is said to have built a church on the very site in 445 AD. The Irish King Brian Boru is also buried on the church's grounds. Its history is rife with burning and plundering. Only two artifacts are known to have survived and neither are currently housed in the church. The Bell of St. Patrick is on view at the Royal Irish Academy and the Book of Armagh -- St. Patrick's written accounts -- is held at Trinity College. Both are in Dublin. Nothing from the original church is thought to have lasted. Still, it's worth a look because it was the site of much history.
The similarly named Catholic cathedral is far more grand. It features twin spires and is home to one of the few stained glass windows commemorating three female saints.
Everything is in walking distance. We enlisted the aide of Barbara Ferguson (www.armaghguidedtours.com) for a walking tour of the city, though. A lifelong resident, Ferguson possesses the noted Irish gift for storytelling and is as much an attraction as the city she talks about. She offers tours of the city's many attractions with packages starting around $15 (pounds only, though).