Early Epigram on Armagh City

John Johnson Marshall
Chapter V

Armagh county, or rather the fruit growing district of it, shares with County Wicklow the appellation of “the Garden of Ireland.” Armagh is sometimes termed “the Marble City,” from the stone used in its buildings and the flagging of its sidewalks. It is also generally known as “the Primatial City,” from being the seat of the Primacy. It was to this office that Ottaviano del Palacio, a native of Florence, was elevated in the year 1480. The learned Italian on seeing the condition of his cathedral city penned a satirical Latin epigram:—

“Civitas Armachana,

Civitas vana,

Absque bonis moribus;

Milieres nudae,

Carnes crudae,

Paupertas in aedibus.”

Which may be translated:—

Armagh—’tis a pity,

Is now a vain city,

Deprived of all common morality:

The women go nude

The meat’s taken crude

And poverty there has locality.”

Regarding the town and people Ware says:—“Though Armagh by reason of its remote antiquity, its far famed schools and its importance, was in earlier times of greater consideration than most of the Irish cities, it was notwithstanding, not to be wondered at that, as the result of long continued ravages of war in Ulster, it was reduced at this period to shameful poverty and had well nigh come to nought.”

An anonymous wag has made the following droll paraphrase of Palacio’s epigram:—

“So far from the town of Armagh being witty,

’Tis an extremely cocked-lip and ridiculous city,

Man, woman, and lad,

Their manners are bad—

The ladies, I wish were a little more prude,

For I blush to narrate they are awfully nude;

If you dine with a gent your meat’s underdone,

And your host some poor pauperly son of a gun.”

The state of Armagh as described by Ware continued until well on in the eighteenth century, as Stuart in his history of Armagh, writing in the year 1748 says:—“Such of the inhabitants of Armagh who wished to purchase superfine broadcloth, or groceries of very good quality, procured them in the neighbouring village of Richhill.”

It was not until the episcopate of Primate Robinson and owing to the munificence of that generous prelate, Armagh became the handsome well-built city that we know to-day.

In the vicinity of Armagh we have:—

“Lisnamoe for scutching tow,

Ballyards for blackguards,

Lisnadill for lying Phil,

Armagh for song bards.”

It seems probable that the good name of Ballyards was sacrificed in the interests of the rhyme, but the reference to Armagh would be quite in order, as the popular street ballad “Bold Phelim Brady the bard of Armagh,” was evidently in the mind of the composer of the quatrain.

The smaller towns and localities are not wanting in cognomens as “Tanderagee no pinch,” a well known phrase which when used in connection with anything means that there is no stint. Tanderagee in bygone days was a famous flax market, and there was no pinch or stint in the way that whiskey was circulated when transactions in the buying and selling of flax were being arranged. Afterwards when these good old times of “fill and fetch more” had passed away, some sarcastic wight disgruntled at the scarcity of tipple amended the saying to “Tanderagee no pinch, plenty of water and no meal.” The little town has another saying and “a Tanderagee way of talking” means to be always on the grumble, but what could be more friendly than when two persons meet perhaps in a distant land, and recognise each other as being from the town of “No Pinch”:—If I had known ye were from Tanderagee I’d have died for ye.” Then there is the well known jingle:—

“Armagh Town near Portadown,

Not far from Tanderagee.”

A County Armagh district bordering on Tyrone has:—

“Killylea for drinking tea,

Tynan it’s the dandy,

Cavanapole the dirty hole,

But Collegehall can beat them all

At drinking the bottle of brandy.”

This rhyme has been adapted to several districts that may settle among themselves which one had the honour of giving it birth. Here are two variants:

“Magherafelt for buttermilk,

Maghera for brandy:

Tubbermore’s a dirty place

But Cookstown is a dandy.”

This localised in another district becomes:—

“Lisnaskea for drinking tea,

Maguiresbridge for brandy,

Clogher is a dirty hole

But Fivemiletown’s a dandy.”

Further west in County Fermanagh the last line is varied to “Enniskillen is a dandy.”