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Drama in the cathedral close

Every time I go by St Patrick's Cathedral, particularly on a sunny day or at night when spotlights throw angular shadows across it, I'm struck by how dramatic it is. And, yet, I had never set foot in it.

When I finally did make it inside, the first thing I noticed (apart from the shop, dumped incongruously at one end) was the atmosphere. A lot of old churches have a hushed museum-like vibe. St Patrick's was different. Despite its size there was a cosy atmosphere. That might sound odd, but it felt like a comfortable place for people to wander or sit, not austere or formal.

It looks incredible too, like a film set with its beautiful stone arches towering above. Crammed with plaques and statues, there's a hotchpotch of bits and pieces, including a severely worn wooden door suspended from a frame.

This is the Chapter Door. In 1492 the Earl of Ormond and the Earl of Kildare were in the midst of a bloody feud. The Earl of Ormond had taken refuge in the Chapter House and refused to come out. The Earl of Kildare cut a hole in the door so he could shake his enemy's hand, bringing the fight to a peaceful end and (probably) inspiring the expression 'chancing one's arm'.

St Patrick's was the location for the first recital of Handel's Messiah (in 1742) and Jonathan Gulliver's Travels Swift was dean here from 1713 to 1745 and is buried in the cathedral.

One of my favourite parts was the choir stalls. The high-backed wooden seats were adorned with faded flags and dusty, rounded helmets; it looked like a scene from a Hollywood blockbuster about the Knights Templar. The helmets and hatchments (canvasses displaying coat of arms of a deceased person) belonged to the Knights of Saint Patrick, a chivalric order founded by King George III in 1783.

The brochure you get on arrival trumpets the cathedral as a place which embodies 'the history and heritage of Irish people of all backgrounds' and there really is a sense of that.

Saint Patrick's Close, Dublin 8. Call 01 453 9472; www.stpatrickscathedral.ie. Tickets are €5.50 for adults and €4.50 for OAPs and students

>Brenda McCormick