Donna Fox is a local Armagh native and a registered Blue Badge Level 4 guide. A member of the Northern Ireland Tour Guide Association since 1997, she decided to follow this career after a period of travelling and working abroad which inspired her to work with visitors to her own country. Donna led three walking tours of Armagh’s streets and alleyways for the #AlleywaysConnected project. Here she gives us a behind the scenes commentary of some of the sights visited on her tours.
“It was my absolute pleasure to be the Tour Guide for 3 walking tours with the Alleyways Project where we discovered the sights, stories and histories of Armagh, both well known and less explored. The definition for an alleyway comes from the French aller “to go”, it is a narrow lane, path or passageway, it is often reserved for pedestrians, and frequently runs between, behind or within buildings in the older parts of towns and cities . With this in mind an alleyway can be a perfect location on the route of a walking tour because you are away from noise & traffic, you are not taking up pavement space, sometimes you have a view of interesting buildings and often there are hidden histories waiting to be discovered.
A lot of the attendees were local and some commented that they had their eyes opened as to what is on their doorstep, particularly regarding the Public Art Trail. I’m delighted to say as a Tour Guide that I also picked up interesting gems of information from some of the participants which I can now weave into my tours.
All the tours started in the Marketplace Theatre, Armagh’s millennium building. It’s a fantastic venue to start a tour because from the large glass windows you obtain a panoramic view of the Hill of Armagh and can be introduced to the history of Armagh and its personalities over the centuries.
There are too many personalities to mention in this article but the core of any tour of the Ecclesiastical Capital of Ireland takes in 3 names: the pre-Christian legendary Queen Macha, from whom Armagh takes its name “Ard Macha” meaning the height of Macha, St Patrick who founded his first “stone” church here in 445 AD establishing Armagh as a seat of learning from where Christianity would be spread throughout Ireland and beyond these shores. Thirdly, Archbishop Richard Robinson who arrived in Armagh in 1765 and is often known as the Builder of Armagh, his legacy is the wonderful Georgian Architecture and many notable buildings for which Armagh has become so well known.
We followed part of the Angels & Gargoyles’ Trail created by Holger Christian Lönze, we investigated some of the Alleyways which will be incorporated into artist Kevin Killen’s work, all the while delving deeper into the rich tapestry of Armagh’s existing Public Art Trail such as Richard Perry’s The Star Stone, Armagh Market & Fair Days by Eleanor Wheeler, For the Love of Emer by Martin Heron, Brian Connolly’s Turning Point and Rory Breslin’s Memorial to the victims of the Armagh Rail Disaster (the latter 2 sculptors have another piece each on the Public Art Trail namely Celestial Sphere and Brian Boru which can be incorporated into longer walking tours of the city).
These streets and alleyways uncover a mélange of stories from the Reverend Henry Jenny who had his book of sermons stolen, to Catherine McGlone who drowned her only son in the Callan River for the love of an officer. We emphasised that Armagh has a rich linen heritage and is also known as the Orchard County, we have the Armagh Bramley with its European PGI status – on a par with Champagne and Parma Ham.
Between Alleyways we breathed in the fresh air at the Mall, formerly known as the Commons and heard about the more unsavoury activities that used to take part at this old race track before it was landscaped into the green space we are still using today.
Armagh has many stories to tell and will have even more when our citizens and visitors will be able to enjoy the new artwork currently being developed by artist Kevin Killen which will gravitate us all towards the Alleyways of this beautiful city.”