Even the name of Armagh itself suggests a long and colourful history. It derives from “Ard Mhacha”, the Hill or Height of Macha who was a formidable pagan goddess from pre-Christian celtic mythology. Today, the cathedral city of Armagh is the centre of a diocese that spreads in a long swathe from the town of Magherafelt at its northern end down into much of County Tyrone and onwards through the entire counties of Armagh and Louth to the River Boyne at Drogheda. Hence it is one of the four “cross-border” dioceses of the present-day Church of Ireland. Since the twelfth century, the diocese of Armagh has claimed a pre-eminence over the other dioceses as the primatial see for the whole of Ireland, connected through its long history with Saint Patrick himself.
The Armagh Diocese of today is largely rural, although it contains a number of large towns, including Portadown, Dungannon, Magherafelt, Cookstown, Dundalk and Drogheda. It faces the challenges of life and Christian witness in the twenty-first century, as of course does every diocese throughout the Church of Ireland. During thirty years of horrific violence during the so-called “Troubles” - from the 1970s through into the 1990s - many people in almost every parish in the diocese suffered dreadfully, and a legacy of trauma remains palpable today. A particular vocation for clergy and people alike in this part of Ireland is therefore to seek from God both healing of the past and hope for the future, and many set themselves to this essential task with a wonderful conviction, integrity and faith.
At present, Armagh Diocese comprises over forty parochial groupings, served by around fifty clergy. There is also a large corps of lay readers who provide invaluable assistance to the clergy in the provision of worship, Sunday by Sunday, in almost ninety parish churches of the diocese. The styles of worship are extremely varied, and in many of the parishes there is strong emphasis on the needs of younger people in worship. At the centre of the diocese is the beautiful cathedral of St Patrick on the Hill of Armagh, continuing the glorious choral tradition of Anglicanism. Part of the heritage of the illustrious Richard Robinson, Archbishop of Armagh in the closing decades of the eighteenth century, is the splendid Library beside the Cathedral in Armagh and the world-famous Armagh Observatory on the outskirts of the city. Both of these great and historic institutions maintain fully their original links with the Archbishopric of Armagh.
But the Diocese of Armagh is not about a great inheritance or even a vibrant present. It sets its face to the future also. One of the great challenges we now must face with energy is the equipping of all the people of the Church to be evangelists for the faith. All Christian disciples must be enabled to account to others for the faith they claim for themselves. In the secularised culture of Ireland, north and south, east and west, the great commission of the Church is to equip all the people of God to speak persuasively with both confidence and clarity of the Gospel that is theirs to share with the world.