Located on a hill surrounded by water and trees, the site of Down Cathedral was an important location for Celtic worship for thousands of years before Saint Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland.
Following the Saint’s death and burial on this elevated location, a small monastic community grew up around St Patrick’s grave, which was first recorded in 753 AD. The stone church and round tower of this monastery was noted in the Annals as being burned by lightening in 1016. The medieval Cathedral which we see today traces its origins to the Invasion of Ulster, when the Norman Knight John de Courcy ousted Rory MacDunleavy, the last King of the Dal Fiatach, and established a Benedictine order there in 1177.
After a turbulent start, and despite being burned by the likes of Edward the Bruce in 1316, the ‘House of St Patrick” flourished until the suppression of the monasteries in 1541, when it became a ruin.
Although successive Anglican deans continued to be installed within the ruined walls, there were no funds to rebuild the Cathedral until 1790 when the first Marquis of Downshire and Dean Annesley, provided the impetus to commence the restoration – a project which even attracted a gift of £1,000 from King George 111.
Down Cathedral now boasts one of the finest pipe organs in the British Isles, impressive Mayer of Munich stained glass windows and continues to welcome people of all faiths and traditions to one of the most important spiritual sites in Ireland.
Location: Down Cathedral and Saint Patrick’s Grave are located on Cathedral Hill beside the Saint Patrick Centre.
The Saint Patrick Centre,
Saint Patrick’s Square,
Market Street, Downpatrick,