The Rock of Cashel is undoubtedly one of the most distinguished heritage sites in Ireland, and with very good reason, it is simply breathtaking. My visits to the Rock of Cashel, Cahir Castle, and the Swiss Cottage, all in Co. Tipperary, as a child were mesmerising and inspirational. I cut and pasted a scrapbook together with photographs and write ups of the places I had been fortunate enough to visit, think of it as a late 80’s/early 90’s analog version of this website! It is for this reason and many more that the Rock of Cashel will always hold a special place in my heart.
The story of the formation of the Rock of Cashel is as tall and as fantastical a tale of which Irish legend is abundant. The limestone outcrop on which the medieval structure stands was said to have originated from the ‘Devil’s Bit’ Mountain, twenty miles away. Legend had it that St Patrick had coaxed out the devil to destroy him or banished him from a cave, however the devil made his getaway by biting through part of the mountain, causing the hollow that can be seen today, before spitting it over in the direction of Cashel. The outcrop has been also known as St Patrick’s Rock, however it should be noted that ‘Caiseal’ in Irish essentially means a Stone Fort.
History tells us that the Rock of Cashel was the seat of the High Kings of Munster and was inhabited from at least the 4th century. Of course our old associate St Patrick is yet again mentioned in relation to the site when he converted Aenghus the then King of Munster to Christianity in the 5th century. In 1101, Muirchertach O Briain, King of Munster gifted the Rock to the church, the round tower which still stands was built shortly after its foundation. In 1111, Cashel became the seat of an Archbishop and a cathedral was built, nothing now remains of this structure but it is believed it was located where the choir of the present cathedral now stands. Most of the remains at the Rock date from the 12th and 13the centuries.
The round tower stands next to the cathedrals north transept, it is a staggering 28 metres in height and has six floors, only the roof was rebuilt in the 19th century. The 2nd oldest remaining building is the Chapel of King Cormac or Cormac’s Chapel which was consecrated in 1134. The design and decoration of the chapel is sophisticated and meticulous in nature, with zig zag arches, carved corbels and carvings of animals. The chapel contains the oldest Romanesque wall painting in Ireland dating from 1134, with others dating from 1160-70. At the west end of the chapel is the burial sarcophagus of either king Cormac or his brother Tadhg, it is decorated in the Hiberno-Scandinavian Urnes style of the early 12th century and is ornamented with all manner of beast and serpent.
The Cathedral was built between 1235 and 1270 and contains some beautiful transepts, on the east site of these transepts are four square chapels, containing beautifully adorned tombs. The five story tower house and the Hall of the Vicar’s Choral (through which visitors enter) were built in the 15th century. In 1647, during the Irish Confederate Wars, Irish Confederate Troops were stationed at Cashel. The English Parliamentarian troops under Murrough O’Brien massacred the troops, then looted and destroyed many important artefacts. No longer in use by 1749 the main cathedral roof was needlessly removed by Arthur Price, the Anglican Archbishop of Cashel, causing a lot of damage, however what has survived remains hauntingly exquisite.
GPS: 52.52007, -7.89045