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Armagh Museum

Explore the Pre-History Collection

The Museum offers a wide selection of pre-history artefacts on display relating to the development of both the city and the county.

Most of these artefacts are tools and weapons used in daily life during Stone Age, Iron Age and Bronze Age periods.

Whilst the city itself has been occupied since Neolithic time but was traditionally associated with St Patrick in 457 AD.

Prehistory Collection
Bog Butter

Bog Butter

Sometimes Irish bogs reveal the most unusual finds. Two wooden ‘methers’, or drinking vessels, retrieved from bogs contain an unusual substance most commonly referred to as bog butter. The ‘butter’ is a waxy substance, a creamy white or very pale yellow in colour.

This practice is found throughout Ireland with dates for burying the butter ranging from 400 BC to 13th century AD.   It is possible our ancestors used the peat bogs as a sort of fridge. They would put their store of food in the bogs to keep them cool and safe. Or it may have been as a security measure to prevent it from being stolen. In prehistoric times it may have even been an offering to the gods.

Bog butter is reasonably similar to modern butter except its fat content is about 15% higher and unlike today, there is no salt. However, a more detailed chemical analysis of the composition of the fats in bog butter reveal a substance that a chemist would more likely identify as a soap-like material – so perhaps best not spread over your toast!

Polished stone axe

The polished stone axe is one of the most well know objects from the Neolithic period (c.4500-2500BC) when it was necessary to devise a tool to clear the forest of trees so that crops could be planted and animals enclosed within fields.

There has always been a great antiquarian interest in collecting these axes and in identifying where the main source of suitable stone existed. Although different types of stone could be used, outcrops of ‘porcellanite’ at Tievebulliagh near Cushendall and on Rathlin Ireland, proved the most popular.

Here, thousands of ‘roughouts’ were found which were intended to have been taken back to the Neolithic farmsteads to be ground and polished at leisure. The axe would be finally finished by adding a wooden handle, though examples of these are extremely rare.

While Armagh County Museum has some massive polished stone axes – too big to be used – the most famous hoard is from the Malone Road, Belfast which is on display in the Ulster Museum.

Polished Stone Axe
Strange Bronze

Strange Bronze

One of the most unusual objects on display is often mistaken for a hand grenade. It is in fact not a weapon but possibly a musical percussion instrument.

Known as a ‘crotal’, most of these objects were all found in one hoard from Dowris in Co Offaly (dating to around 800BC). This rare example is from Co Antrim. The word ‘crotal’ comes from a Greek word which indicates that they make a rattling sound when shaken, probably from a bit of metal or stone trapped internally.

Crotals were found along with curved musical horns in the Dowris hoard, which many believe are designed to mimic the horns of a bull.

It is possible that shape of the crotal was influenced by another part of the bull’s anatomy which we can leave to the imagination! This may suggests that the idea of the crotal being intentionally manufactured as an instrument is not correct but that they were a ritual object perhaps to reflect the power and potency of the bull.

Viking Bracelets

Just imagine the panic on that day in 832 AD, when the Vikings launched their first hit-and-run raid on the great monastery at Armagh.

The monastery was an easy target, standing proudly on the hill now occupied by the Church of Ireland cathedral. Two more attacked followed that same month and for the next 100 years Armagh was repeatedly plundered by these ‘foreigners’ as they took prisoners, food, wine and fine metalwork from the city. Vivid accounts of these attacks were recorded by the monks in the ‘Annals’ – a yearly diary of events and incidents.

You can see one of the most important Viking hoards from the area on display on the ground floor.

“The Tynan Hoard” was found over one hundred years ago in the Tynan estate and consists of 5 silver bracelets and a flat strip of metal that was probably going to be made into another bracelet. Before the use of coins, silver (usually hacked into smaller pieces) was a form of currency and was often exchanged for slaves.

Viking Bracelets


The heading ‘Armachiana’, found in several display cases at the Museum, is a general term used to indicate that the information and objects relate to the development of Armagh city and county.

Although the site has been occupied since Neolithic times, the city’s foundation is traditionally associated with St Patrick, in 457 AD. Originally granted land by a local chieftain Daire, in the lower area of Scotch Street, Patrick finally secured the hilltop site where the Church of Ireland Cathedral now stands. This was the site of the great monastery of Armagh, where the Book of Armagh was compiled (807 AD).

The impact of Christianity was felt throughout the county from objects like the Kilnasaggart pillar (714 AD), near Jonesborough, to the foundation of the Franciscan Friary (1263 AD) on the outskirts of the city. The trials and tribulations of religion and politics are reflected in objects like penal crosses and the toppling of the Market Cross (1813).

The contrast between Armagh in the centuries following St Patrick’s arrival and the image of the City in 1609 when it lay in ruins, could not be greater.

It was not until the arrival of Archbishop Robinson (1765) that the fortunes of the city were revived and many landmark buildings constructed, including the Observatory. Gradually the infrastructure that we associate with towns and cities was put in place, from the funding of a fire brigade to the provision of law and order.

Prehistoric Pots

The Museum has a very good collection of prehistoric pots. The ability to ‘fire’ clay and make a pot was a skill first learned in the Neolithic period (about 4000BC).  These were made from coils of clay rather than using a potter’s wheel.  As well as using pots for cooking, they were often buried with the dead.

By the time of the Bronze Age (about 2000BC) the pots used for funerals came in a variety of forms, from large decorated vessels to tiny ‘pygmy’ pots. Many of these became known by the general term of ‘food’ vessel, the idea being that they would hold food or drink for a meal in the afterlife.

Rather like today, there appears to have been a choice regarding cremation.  The bone turned white on burning, contrasting with the high temperatures of the modern crematorium which turned the body to ash.

Burying other objects with the dead was also an important aspect of prehistoric burials.  Fortunately this was a way of preserving artefacts that may otherwise not have survived.  It was also a way of dating the burials before the discovery of modern scientific techniques.

Ironically with the spread of Christianity and the removal of objects from the dead, it has become more difficult to date burials where the skeleton is preserved but where all other objects are absent.

Prehistoric Pot
Modern History

Explore the Modern History Collection

This part of the collection reflects the lives of people who have lived and worked in Armagh or have been associated with the County.

The permanent displays show transport, industry, social life and traditions

The Hour Glass

Before the advent of clocks, among the devices used to figure out time was the hourglass which is illustrated as early as 1338.

They became an important part of a ship’s navigation equipment and a way to tell the time as the hours would be counted afternoon when the sun was at its highest.

It was also used to time church sermons and factory work before its more common use as an aid to cooking, especially for eggs!

This example probably dates to the 18th century and stands some 6½ inches high. Today, we take the telling of time for granted, but in the past the hour glass would have been an important domestic item.

Lunatic Asylum Bowl

The Lunatic Asylum Bowl

This bowl on display is stamped on the outside ‘Armagh District Lunatic Asylum’ and is believed to have been made in the Belleek factory. While most people associate Belleek with fine quality pots, they did make a range of domestic wares like this bowl.

When the term District Lunatic Asylum became an unacceptable term to describe the hospital it was ordered that the bowls and plates be destroyed. However this rare example survived and was purchased by the museum in 1983.

Penal Crosses

The story of the crucifixion has inspired the imagination of artists for generations and in Ireland during the 18th century it found expression in wooden carved crosses.

These ‘penal’ crosses take their name from a series of laws passed to suppress the Catholic population. It restricted the types of jobs they were able to apply for, made land ownership difficult and impeded worship. The production of the crosses coincided with the enforcement of these laws as in this example dated to 1791 and found near Loughgall, Co Armagh.

Penal crosses appear to have been produced by wood carvers working in the neighbourhood of Lough Derg, Co Donegal. This is a site of pilgrimage, with associations to St Patrick, were the crosses would have been bought as a souvenir of the journey.

Among the symbols shown on the crosses is an interesting one of a bird and bucket! This occurs below the feet of Christ. The bird, usually referred to as a ‘cock’ is associated with the biblical story of Judas. His wife, who was cooking the bird in the bucket, remarked that the chances of Jesus rising from the dead were about the same as the cock leaping for the pot – which it apparently then did!

Another common carving are the initials ‘INRI’ from the Latin inscription ‘IESVS·NAZARENVS·REX·IVDÆORVM’ (Jesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum), which translates to English as “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.“

Penal Cross


Objects on show include uniforms, rifles, swords, belt plates, buttons, ceramics, glass and silver ware.

There’s also a wealth of information on some of the leading local figures involved with groups such as the United Irishmen, Irish Yeomanry and Armagh Volunteers.

Other cases include sections on the Tyrone and Louth Militia, the Royal Irish Fusiliers and the regiment of the North Irish Horse.


Busby is the English name for a military head-dress of fur. Possibly the original sense of a “busby wig” came from association with Dr Busby of Westminster; but it is also derived from “buzz”, in the phrase “buzz wig”.
In its first Hungarian form the military busby was a cylindrical fur cap, having a “bag” of coloured cloth hanging from the top; the end of this bag was attached to the right shoulder as a defense against sword-cuts.

In Great Britain “busbies” are of two kinds: (a) the hussar busby, cylindrical in shape, with a bag; this is worn by hussars and the Royal Horse Artillery; (b) the rifle busby, a folding cap of astrachan, in shape somewhat resembling a “Glengarry” but taller. Both have straight plumes in the front of the headdress.

The word “busby” is also used colloquially to denote the tall bear-and-raccoon-skin “caps” worn by foot-guards and fusiliers, and the full dress feather bonnet of Highland infantry. Cylindrical busbies were formerly worn by the artillery engineers and rifles, but these are now obsolete in the regular army, though still worn by some territorial and colonial troops of these arms.

This particular Busby belonged to an officer in the Tyrone militia circa 1900.



Epaulettes are the fancy fringed ornaments seen on the shoulders of military officials in full dress uniform.

Epaulettes are a French invention coming from the French word epaule meaning shoulder. In the days before binoculars epaulettes were used to help soldiers identify their officer in battles.

Many armies followed this tradition but after a time it became less popular because not only could officers be easily identified by their own soldiers, they could also be identified by their enemies! Nowadays epaulettes are usually only worn on formal dress uniforms for special occasions.

These particular epaulettes were worn by a Royal Irish Fusiliers officer and made by R Ponder, London.

Globular Brass Shell

This brass shell opens at the base and was said to be used to cover the muzzles of muskets in a stand of Volunteer firelocks.
This particular brass shell was said to have been in use at Charlemont House, Dublin, or at Marino, the Volunteer Earl’s country house at Clontarf on the outskirts of the city.

It is inscribed:
The Irish Volunteers 1778-1793. This patriotic corps of gentlemen was recruited from the four provinces of Ireland for horse defence at the time of England’s need during the American War of Independence. Numbered 143 regiment they were armed by the government with these rifles but provided their own uniforms and elected their own officers. Commandant, Lord Charlemont, Officers, the Duke of Leinster, Lord Clanrickard, Hon Henry Fitzgibbon Lord Clare, and Hon Luke Gardiner, Lord Mountjoy.

Globular Brass Shell
Art Section

The two temporary exhibition galleries on the first floor are used from time to time to display the Museum’s impressive art collection. This includes paintings, prints, ceramics and a few items of sculpture and furniture. There is always a selection of paintings permanently on view throughout the building,  including this historical view of Armagh in 1810, by James Black.

Portraits of local personalities are well represented among the collection, as are the towns, villages and rural landscapes of county Armagh. Works by established artists include Tom Carr, William Conor, James Humbert Craig, TP Flanagan, Charles Lamb, John Luke and JB Vallely. The most important single collection are some 24 works by George William Russell (‘AE’).

Ceramic Bowl

Applied Art Collection

The applied art collection in the museum contains a wide variety of objects that illustrate the handiwork of county Armagh people. There are, for example some outstanding patchwork quilts and samplers from the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

The jewellery includes many good examples of Irish Bog Oak jewellery donated my Mrs Hull-Grundy. Commemorative ceramics are also well represented and so too are several fine illuminated presentation addresses.

Memorial Plaque

This plaque entitled “The Grievous Return” was made shortly after the Armagh Railway disaster in 1889. It is a poignant reminder of the tragic disaster which happened over a century ago.
The train that crashed was a Sunday School excursion and the artist who made the memorial has depicted a grief-stricken woman beside the body of a child, both figures beneath a menacing cloud.

Originally this was one of a pair of terracotta plaques and the now lost companion was entitled “The Happy Departure”. They were made in an Art School that flourished in the Museum premises during the 1880s. Both were signed J Taylor who it is presumed was a student at the school.

This type of high relief was originally developed in Italian terracotta roundals made in the 1400s but the style was made popular again by the Arts & Crafts movement in the 1880s.

It is probable that these examples were originally intended to be incorporated into a building as a lasting reminder of the fateful day.

Memorial Plaque
Coalisland Pottery

Coalisland Pottery

Towards the end of the 19th century the ‘Ulster Pottery Company’ was set up to make fine ‘Parian’ porcelain similar to Belleek. Some workers from the Belleek factory joined the Ulster Pottery Company but the success of the factory was short lived.

Each piece produced was usually marked ‘Ulster Pottery Co. Coalisland Ireland’ in a circle surrounding a red hand of Ulster. Several of these beautifully decorated cups and jugs have found their way into the collection.

Fine Art Collection

The paintings, drawings and prints in Armagh County Museum mostly embody the work of artists with Armagh connections as well as local landscapes and portraits of people who lived and worked in the county.
We hold works by William Conor, James Sleator, John Luke and Lurgan born mystic and Renaissance man George Russell (AE).

Fine Art
The Old Callan Bridge

The Old Callan Bridge

One of the Museum’s most well known paintings was commissioned from the Belfast born artist John Luke in 1945. He was staying in Co Armagh to avoid the blitz during the Second World War.

His distinctive style is instantly recognisable. It depicts an old bridge designed for horse and carriage over the River Callan on the outskirts of the City.

The bridge still exists, as does the remains of the windmill which is the building on the hill to the right of the bridge. St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral can just be seen peeping over the trees.

Buildings of Armagh

This painting is the work of Timothy Lennox, completed when he was a student in Armagh.

It shows many of important buildings in the City, including the Museum, St Patrick’s cathedrals and the War Memorial on the Mall.

The painting was on loan for several years before being generously purchased by the Friends of the Museum.

Buildings of Armagh
City of Armagh 1810

The City of Armagh 1810

This detailed view of Armagh from the early 1800s by James Black shows some of the landmark buildings in the City.
Although it is difficult to make out from this image, the original painting is quite large and it is possible to follow the town’s street pattern.

At one end of the Mall is the courthouse and at the other, the gaol with its chimneys puffing smoke. At the extreme right are the buildings of the Royal School. Crowning the hill, St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral (now without a spire) looks down towards Market Square with its ‘High Cross’. A closer look reveals soldiers, horse and carriage.

Costume Collection

Clothing is a wonderful way of helping us imagine how people actually lived in the past.

The museum’s costume cases contain a fascinating array of ladies clothes, including wedding dresses, frocks and evening gowns, many dating from the Victorian period. These are accompanied by accessories including fans and purses.
Among the men’s costume is a rare brown-coloured suit dating to the 1790s and a selection of elaborately decorated waistcoats.

At the more formal end of attire are costumes worn on special occasions, as by the 5th Earl of Caledon at the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902.

Satin Waistcoat

Satin Waistcoat

In 1660 an important change took place in men’s garments when coats and vests first evolved as distinct garments in France.

This fashion was carried to England by Charles II and reached Ireland about the same time.

At first the vest was long, reaching to the knees, and sleeved. The coat was slightly longer. The coat and waistcoat of today decend from these garments.

At the beginning of the 18th century the sleeved waistcoat became short and richly embroidered.

Later sleeves disappeared and during the course of the century the corners of the waistcoat were cut away in front. In the 19th century waistcoats were cut shorter.

Page’s costume

This page’s costume was worn by the Honorable James Du Pre Alexander at the age of 9. He was a page attending the installation of his father Du Pre 2nd Earl of Caledon as a Knight of St Patrick in Dublin during the visit of George IV in 1821. James Du Pre succeeded as 3rd Earl in 1839.

The costume is made from blue silk includes a jacket, pantaloons, cloak, stockings and shoes.

The jacket with stand-up collar and long sleeves with broad cuffs and puffed shoulders, fastened down front by five buttons and heavily braided with silver lace.

The pantaloons is slashed with darker silk panels edged in silver lace with drop flat front and cloth-covered braces buttons with one pocket in waistband lined with white cotton.

The cloak is lined with cream and fastened round the neck with a doubled gold drawstring with toggle and tassels.

The stockings made from cream silk and the shoes made from soft cream leather with blue scalloped ribbon and blue heels.

Pages Costume
Victorian Dress

Victorian Dress

This patterned bodice, skirt and basque is made from green silk, braided and fringed dress which is lined with grey cotton. It was worn by Mrs James Irwin of Scotch Street, Armagh between 1850-1926 who lived at Redrock Manse, Armagh.

The bodice is a high neck with no collar, fastened up the front by nine pearl buttons and with broad three-quarter length sleeves.

The skirt is full length with train, waist fastened by two buttons and with two hooks and eyes, a hidden pocket at waist band to the right.

The basque is scalloped at back below a bow and with a similar bow on the front, fastened by two hooks and loops at left of front bow.

Formal Female Dress

This is a fine example of a formal female dress c1770.

Panniers, hoops and the straight fronted corset gave a distinctive outline. The elbow length, ruffled sleeves and low neckline are also typical feature of the period.

This dress has been altered from its original earlier form. This was a normal feature of 18th century costume. Fabric, especially silk was so expensive that dresses were very commonly restyled.

Formal Female Dress

One of our most popular display areas, especially with younger visitors is on the first floor lets you to take a close look at birds and mammal and fossils.

It is divided into several convenient sections, mammals water birds, birds of prey, garden birds and geology.


The Museum has a great collection of mammals on display in the Natural History section. These include badger, bats, fox, otter, hare, rabbit, rats and squirrels.
The red squirrel is now extremely rare, but you can still spot grey squirrels in the trees around the Mall in Armagh just outside the Museum.


The Squirrel

The red squirrel is an increasingly rare sight in Northern Ireland whereas the grey squirrel (introduced in 1911, Co Longford) is very common and can be seen in and around the trees on the Mall opposite the Museum. The grey squirrel out-competes the red for food and has a more varied diet which along with it being less susceptible to a form of a ‘pox’ virus helps explain the expansion.

The last strongholds for the red squirrel are in County Antrim with other concentrations including Tullymore Forest, Co Down and an embattled Belvoir Park Forest, Belfast, where the greys are increasingly encroaching. The popular image of the red squirrel storing nuts in the ground is correct, but it does not hibernate during the winter.


In the Museum you will find a large collection of birds. They are grouped by the environment in which they live (habitat).

They include water birds, farmland birds and those found in woodland and garden.
Other taxidermy specimens in the stores include slightly more exotic species and these can be viewed by contacting the Museum to arrange an appointment.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Anyone lucky enough to have seen a barn owl in the wild will be struck by beauty and silence of this impressive hunter. Such a sight in is now extremely rare in Northern Ireland with perhaps less that 50 breeding pairs as the birds are susceptible to wet weather, cold winters and loss of suitable habitat. Sometimes known as the ‘farmers friend’, it derives this name from its diet of rodent pests which it hunts for at dusk and into the night.

The birds tend to nest in buildings such as barns or holes in trees laying between 4-7 eggs, though about 75% of the young die in their first year. The barn owl is an extremely endangered species in Northern Ireland and is the subject of an Ulster Wildlife Trust survey in 2010.

The Kingfisher

The Kingfisher is one of our most colourful and dramatic looking birds. While they can be seen in rivers and lakes in Northern Ireland, their low rapid flight often results in a blur of iridescent blue as they flash by.

As the name suggests, they hunt mainly for fish from riverside perches or on occasion by hovering over the water’s surface. These include minnows and sticklebacks but they will also eat other aquatic insects and even tadpoles.

Kingfishers are very short-lived and often there numbers suffer badly after a severe winter where they die from the cold or lack of food. Because the fish they feed on are susceptible to pollution the presence of Kingfishers is a good indication of a healthy stretch of water

Wooden Plate

Until quite recent times, wood was the principal material used to make most common goods.
Indeed, the range of wooden objects on display in the museum indicates just how important timber was before other raw materials became more widely available.
Some of these objects are identifiable as trays, dishes, butter stamps and a variety of vessels to hold liquids or foods.

Providing accurate dates for these objects has always been difficult, but a recent study has revealed that some are likely to date as far back as the Bronze Age, while several are from the Iron Age. Most of these early objects have been preserved in peat bogs, including samples of bog butter.

Explore the Domestic Life collection

Butter Stamps

The word butter comes from the Greek for cow’s cheese and although we take it for granted, it still takes the staggering figure of 21 pounds of fresh cow’s milk to make one pound of butter.
The traditional role of women in butter making is also reflected in the word ‘dairy’, from Middle English dey, a female servant.

As well as a supply for their own use, farms began to take butter to markets and the butter stamp and mould became more common.

The wooden mould allowed the butter to be supplied in certain weights and the stamp not only decorated the top but could indicate or be associated with the maker.
Among the subjects used for the moulds were farm related themes, especially cows, different type of grain and flowers.

Butter Stamp


Until the Industrial revolution, hand spun yarn was woven on looms in cottages all around the countryside of Northern Ireland. Particularly in Co Armagh, this industry flourished. Weaving was a popular as it required little capital to buy the necessary tools and could be done at home. The weaver’s cottage had one or two rooms known as shops where the loom was installed Looms were usually hired and paid for on an annual basis so once the weaver was equipped with shears, a rubbing stone and cutters, they were ready for work.

Once the cloth was woven, it was taken to market for sale. The Linen Board established markets or halls first in Dublin (1721) and then Belfast (1746) and then throughout Ireland. However, due to the rise of factories these markets went into decline and soon the cottage industry was replaced so markets or halls were demolished or used for something else.

After World War 1, conditions became unstable and with the development of man-made fibre, linen was gradually replaced. As a result of this, many great factories were forced to close their doors while others embraced the changes and adapted to the manufacture of artificial fibres.

Weaver’s Rubber

Some examples bore their owner’s name while others portrayed political slogans or symbols of Irish secret societies. The weaver’s rubber in the picture bores the initials A.S., presumably they were the weaver’s inititals.
Weaver’s rubbers were also made from different materials, some glass or bone, even stone axeheads would have been used.

Specimens are now very rare owing to activities from American collectors descended from Ulster hand loom weaving stock. In the years following the 1914-18 war collectors bought up all kinds of relics connected with linen weaving.

Weavers Rubber
Guards Hat

On display at the museum are guards’ hats, tickets, timetables and name plates of study engines like ‘Slieve Gullion’.

There is information on the Great Northern Railway, the Clogher Valley Railway, small industrial railways and information on Ireland’s worst railway disaster.

Transport links
In 1836, an Act of Parliament allowed the Ulster Railway Company to build the first railway in Ulster from ‘the Town of Belfast to the City of Armagh’. The line reached Lurgan in 1841, Portadown a year later and the first trains rolled into Armagh in 1848. The last train left Armagh on the 30 September 1957.

Did you know?
Ireland’s highest railway bridge is the Craigmore viaduct, near Bessbrook – its tallest arch is 140 feet above ground. At just one yard short of a mile, the Lissummon tunnel on the Newry – Armagh line was the longest in Ireland.