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St Patrick’s Cathedral Dublin: History, Tours + Some Quirky Tales

St Patrick’s Cathedral Dublin: History, Tours + Some Quirky Tales

A visit to the magnificent St Patrick’s Cathedral is one of the most popular things to do in Dublin.

It’s odd enough for a city to have two iconic cathedrals, let alone situate them only half a mile from each other!

The largest of the two, however, is St Patrick’s (the national cathedral of the Church of Ireland) and that’s what we’ll be talking about here.

Below, you’ll find info on everything from the history of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin to how to visit.

Some quick need-to-knows about St Patrick’s Cathedral

st patricks cathedral dublin

Photo © The Irish Road Trip

Although a visit to St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

1. Location

You can find St Patrick’s Cathedral and its handsome spire in central Dublin. It’s a 7-minute walk from Christ Church Cathedral, a 9-minute walk from St Stephen’s Green and an 11-minute walk from Dublin Castle.

2. Admission + opening hours

Entry (affiliate link) is €10.00 for adults while OAP’s, children and students get in for €9.00. The cathedral is open from 09:30 – 17:00 and 18:15 to 19:15 Monday through Friday and from 9:00-18:00 on Saturdays. On Sundays, opening hours are staggered to facilitate mass: 9:10-10:20, 13:00-14:30 and 16:30-18:00. Note: prices and opening hours may change. 

3. The tour

There are free guided tours on offer at St Patrick’s Cathedral which take place regularly throughout the day. Just ask at the front desk when you arrive for the time of the next tour.

4. Where ‘chancing your arm’ began

The tale of how this phrase came about actually begins at St Patrick’s Cathedral. The Butler family and the FitzGerald family were feuding over who would become Lord Deputy of Ireland, and things became violent. The Butlers took refuge inside so to diffuse the situation, Gerald FitzGerald (head of the FitzGerald family) ordered that a hole be cut in the door to the room and he then placed his arm through the hole, offering his hand as a sign of peace and, thus, to ‘chance your arm’ was born.

5. Part of the Dublin Pass

Exploring Dublin over 1 or 2 days? If you buy a Dublin Pass for €70 you can save from €23.50 to €62.50 on Dublin’s top attractions, like the EPIC Museum, the Guinness Storehouse, 14 Henrietta Street, the Jameson Distillery Bow St. and more (info here).

The history of St Patrick’s Cathedral

St Patrick's Cathedral  tour

Photo by Sean Pavone (Shutterstock)

While the church was founded in 1191, construction on the current cathedral didn’t begin until around 1220 and took a good 40 years! Now starting to resemble the structure we see today, St Patrick’s competed for supremacy with nearby Christ Church Cathedral.

The early years

An agreement was arranged between the two cathedrals in 1300 by Richard de Ferings, Archbishop of Dublin. The Pacis Compostio acknowledged both as cathedrals and made some provisions to accommodate their shared status.

In 1311 the Medieval University of Dublin was founded here with William de Rodyard, Dean of St Patrick’s, as its first Chancellor, and the Canons as its members. It never truly thrived, however, and was quashed at the Reformation, leaving the path free for Trinity College to eventually become Dublin’s premier university.

The Reformation

The collapse of the nave and the demotion to the status of parish church were just two of the effects of the Reformation on St Patrick’s. That Henry VIII had much to answer for!

Though in 1555 a charter of the joint Catholic monarchs Philip II of Spain and Mary I restored the cathedral’s privilege and initiated restoration. In 1560, one of Dublin’s first public clocks was erected in the tower.

Jonathan Swift’s time

For many years, legendary Dublin writer, poet and satirist Jonathan Swift was Dean of the cathedral. As Dean for over 30 years between 1713 and 1745, he wrote some of his most famous works during his time at St Patrick’s, including Gulliver’s Travels.

Swift took a great interest in the building, and his grave and epitaph can be seen in the cathedral.

19th, 20th and 21st centuries

By the 19th century, St Patrick’s and its sister cathedral Christ Church were both in very poor condition and almost derelict. The major reconstruction was finally paid for by Benjamin Guinness (the third son of Arthur Guinness II) between 1860 and 1865, and was inspired by the real fear that the cathedral was in imminent danger of collapse.

In 1871 the Church of Ireland was disestablished and St Patrick’s became the national cathedral. These days the cathedral hosts a number of public ceremonies, including Ireland’s Remembrance Day ceremonies.

What to do at St Patrick’s Cathedral

One of the reasons that a visit to St Patrick’s Cathedral is so popular is due to the sheer volume of things there are to see and do here.

Below, you’ll find info on the guided tours of St Patrick’s Cathedral to what to see around its gorgeous grounds (you can grab a ticket in advance here).

1. Grab a coffee and enjoy the grounds

st patricks dublin

Photo © The Irish Road Trip

Covering a significant area just to the north of the cathedral, St Patrick’s smart grounds are a lovely spot for a stroll and a coffee on a nice day and the charming little Tram Cafe in St Patrick’s Park is one of the most unique places for coffee in Dublin.

Walk among the flowers and the elegant central fountain before finding one of the many benches so you can sit back and admire the iconic shape of the famous old cathedral.

2. Admire the architecture

history of St Patrick's Cathedral 

Photo by Tupungato (Shutterstock)

Speaking of admiring the cathedral! Though it was vastly rebuilt and reconstructed in the 19th century, the architects made sure to retain the original Gothic appearance. St Patrick’s is now one of the most handsome sights in Dublin.

In fact, considering the rather shambolic state the cathedral was in during the early 1800s, it’s all the more impressive the job that the architects did a few years later. Thomas Cromwell’s Irish travel guide from 1820 said that the building surely deserved a better fate than “to totter into irretrievable ruin, which from present appearances seems to be its no very distant doom.”

Another impressive note is that at 120 feet high, the tower makes it the tallest cathedral in Ireland while inside it’s best known for its stunning stained-glass windows, polished marble statues and pretty medieval tiling. This is Dublin architecture at its finest.

3. Take a free guided tour

The guided tours on offer at St Patrick’s Cathedral are one of the best free things to do in Dublin and they take place regularly throughout the day. Just ask at the front desk when you arrive for the time of the next tour.

The tour is taken by a cathedral verger (caretaker) and gives an in-depth insight into the history and significance of St Patrick’s. You’ll hear about the cathedral’s changing fates, including how it was used for a time as a courthouse and, bizarrely, as an elaborate stable for Oliver Cromwell’s horses.

You’ll also see where the boys of the cathedral choir have been singing since 1432 and visit the sublime Lady Chapel, which was used by French Huguenots who had fled persecution at home.

Things to do near St Patrick’s Cathedral

One of the beauties of St Patrick’s Cathedral is that it’s a short spin away from a clatter of other attractions, both man-made and natural.

Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from the cathedral (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).

1. Marsh’s Library

Marsh's Library

Photo by James Fennell via Ireland’s Content Pool

One of the last 18th-century buildings in Ireland still used for its original purpose, the 300-year-old Marsh’s Library sits next door to St Patrick’s and has a fascinating history all of its own. Check out the bullet holes from the 1916 Easter Rising, as well as some dusty ancient tomes that date back to the 15th century!

2. Dublinia

things to do near St Patrick's Cathedral 

Photo left by Lukas Fendek (Shutterstock). Photo right via Dublinia on Facebook

Want to really see what Dublin was like back when St Patrick’s was just beginning life? Just a 5-minute walk north lies Dublinia, an interactive museum where you’ll be able to travel back in time to experience Dublin’s violent Viking past and its bustling medieval life. You’ll also be able to climb the 96 steps of the old tower of St. Michaels Church and get some cracking views across the city.

3. Endless attractions in the city

marshes library

Photo left: Lauren Orr. Photo right: Kevin George (Shutterstock)

Thanks to its handy central location, there’s a ton of other spots you can visit when you’re finished at St Patrick’s. There’s everything from Kilmainham Gaol and the Guinness Storehouse to Phoenix Park and Dublin Castle.

4. Food and trad pubs

places to eat nearby

Photos via the Brazen Head on Facebook

There are some incredible restaurants in Dublin, with something to tickle most tastebuds. There’s also endless pubs in Dublin, from ones that do the best Guinness to the oldest pubs in Dublin, like the Brazen Head above.

FAQs about visiting St Patrick’s Cathedral 

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Who is buried in St Patrick cathedral Dublin?’ (Jonathan Swift and more) to ‘Is the tour worth doing?’.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

Is St Patrick’s Cathedral worth visiting?

Yes! Even if you just wander around it’s grounds, it’s worth taking a detour to see it. The guided tours here are excellent, too.

Is it free to visit St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin?

No. You have to pay into the cathedral (prices above), but then the tours are said to be free.

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