The building you can visit today dates from the early 13th Century and was constructed on the site of an ancient well that’s famous in Irish folklore. It is said that St Patrick himself, patron saint of Ireland, used the well to dunk Irish heathens in the water, making the Cathedral one of the oldest holy sites in Ireland. There has been a church on the site since the 5th Century; formerly there stood a wooden structure over which the stone Cathedral was erected. Originally, local limestone was used along with stone imported from the South West of England to build this magnificent structure.
It was granted collegiate status in 1191, and clergy dedicated to both worship and scholarly pursuits were a constant presence for hundreds of years. Cathedral status was bestowed in 1224, shortly after the establishment of the present building that visitors can see today.
Like its sister cathedral Christ Church, the cathedral has endured a turbulent history of fire and storm damage and has been restored and renovated numerous times. Additionally, the cathedral has a colourful past full of famous characters and their escapades. For instance, Oliver Cromwell during his infamous visit to Ireland in the mid 17th Century converted St Patrick’s into a stable for the horses of his soldiers. He subjected numerous other churches in the country to this unceremonious indignity, but thankfully the Cathedral soon reverted to its proper purpose soon after his departure and there are no horses to be seen wandering the corridors today.
Another character associated with the cathedral is Jonathan Swift, one of Ireland’s most famous sons. The author of Gulliver’s travels was the dean of the cathedral from 1713 to 1745, and oversaw numerous works and improvements. Swift is buried by the South-western porch of the cathedral alongside his long time companion Esther Johnson. Other famous visitors include William of Orange, Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert.
Have you ever heard the expression “to chance your arm?” This well known saying originated in a family feud that culminated with one family besieged within the Cathedral surrounded by their rivals in the mid 15th Century. From inside the Cathedral, one man “chanced” his arm by putting it through a hole in the door as a gesture of trust and goodwill – a gesture that led to a peaceful resolution of the disagreement and prevented unnecessary bloodshed.
There’s plenty more to see when you visit this historic place, including the huge Boyle memorial and the Cathedral’s imposing 100ft tower. It is difficult to describe the sense of history in store for you, so we strongly encourage paying a visit and experiencing this shrine to Irish heritage for yourself.
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If you would like to discuss any of the tours shown on this site, or if you’re looking to customise your own tour and just want to ‘pick our brains’ we’d be only too delighted to chat with you.