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  • Writer's pictureAlex van Terheyden

The Rock of Cashel - Ireland - a wonder of the Emerald Isle

Ancient kings, patron saints and unparalleled beauty – the Rock of Cashel brings together Ireland's long legacy and trademark stunning scenery. Silhouetted against the sky, rising above the lush green fields of the surrounding countryside, the Rock is home to over 1,000 years of history, right at the heart of Ireland's Ancient East. The Rock of Cashel is one of the wonders of the Emerald Isle; a truly wonderful place to visit and explore the history of this magical and spooky place with a very dark history.

Found southwest of Dublin and northeast of Cork in mystical Irland is a hill known to the locals and to many around the world as The Rock of Cashel. Dripping in history and wonder it is on many to-do lists for those who visit Ireland. Thankfully because it is relatively distant from most places in Ireland the Rock of Cashel isn’t completely overrun by tourists - at least just yet.

According to local legends, the Rock of Cashel originated in the Devil's Bit, a mountain 20 miles north of Cashel. Local legend states that St. Patrick banished Satan from a cave, resulting in the Rock's landing in Cashel. Although this mound or hill as it may be referred to where we find the Rock of Cashel has been here since the ice age - so sadly a nice idea about St Patrick but simply not true. Cashel is reputed to be the site of the conversion of the King of Munster by St. Patrick in the 5th century.

The Rock of Cashel was the traditional seat of the Kings of Munster for several hundred years prior to the Norman invasion. In 1101, the King of Munster, Muirchertach Ua Briain, donated his fortress on the Rock to the Church. The picturesque complex has a character of its own and is one of the most remarkable collections of Celtic art and medieval architecture to be found anywhere in Europe. Few remnants of the early structures survive; the majority of buildings on the current site date from the 12th and 13th centuries.

The oldest and tallest of the structure is the well-preserved Round Tower - 28 metres, or 90 feet. Its entrance is 12 feet from the ground, necessitated by a shallow foundation (about 3 feet) typical of round towers throughout Ireland - if you are curious what they are like from the top or to climb - do check out my video on Kilkenny where I climb the Round tower in Kilkenny Ireland. The tower was built using the dry stone method. Modern conservationists have filled in some of the Tower with mortar for safety reasons.

The Cathedral, built between 1235 and 1270, is an aisleless building of a cruciform plan, having a central tower and terminating westwards in a massive residential castle. The Hall of the Vicars Choral was built in the 15th century. The vicar's choral were laymen (sometimes minor canons) appointed to assist in chanting the cathedral services. The Office of Public Works undertook the restoration of the Hall as a project in connection with the European Architectural Heritage Year, 1975. Through it, visitors now enter the site.

Gaelic Cross, Ireland, Rock of Cashel
A Gaelic Cross - one of a number found at The Rock of Cashel

In 1647, during the Irish Confederate Wars, Cashel was sacked by English Parliamentarian troops under Murrough O'Brien, 1st Earl of Inchiquin. The Irish Confederate troops there were massacred, as were the Catholic clergy, including Theobald Stapleton. Inchiquin's troops looted or destroyed many important religious artefacts.

In 1749, the main cathedral roof was removed by Arthur Price, the Anglican Archbishop of Cashel. Today, what remains of the Rock of Cashel has become a tourist attraction. Price's decision to remove the roof on what had been called the jewel among Irish church buildings was criticised before and since.

The entire plateau on which the buildings and graveyard lie is walled. An extensive graveyard is to be found in the grounds around the buildings, including a number of high crosses. Scully's Cross, one of the largest and most famous high crosses here, initially constructed in 1867 to commemorate the Scully family, was destroyed in 1976 when lightning struck a metal rod that ran the length of the cross. The remains of the top of the cross now lie at the base of the cross adjacent to the rock wall.

Cormac's Chapel, the chapel of King Cormac Mac Carthaigh, was begun in 1127 and consecrated in 1134. It is a sophisticated structure, with vaulted ceilings and wide arches, drawing on contemporary European architecture and infusing unique native elements. The Irish Abbot of Regensburg, Dirmicius of Regensburg, sent two of his carpenters to help in the work and the twin towers on either side of the junction of the nave and chancel are strongly suggestive of their Germanic influence, as this feature is otherwise unknown in Ireland. Other notable features of the building include a barrel-vaulted roof, a carved tympanum over both doorways, the magnificent north doorway and chancel arch and the oldest stairs in Ireland. It contains one of the best-preserved Irish frescoes from this time period. The Chapel was constructed primarily of sandstone which has become waterlogged over the centuries, significantly damaging the interior frescoes. Restoration and preservation required the chapel to be completely enclosed in a rain-proof structure with interior dehumidifiers to dry out the stone. It is now open for limited tours to the public.

All in all, a beautiful and magical place to visit and in my mind should be added to everyone's itinerary when visiting the Emerald Isle. If you manage to visit it or have visited it previously let me know what you thought. The wonderful crows who call the Rock of Cashel their home make the trip worth it alone.

Either take a road trip from Dublin or Cork or alternatively, stay in the area. When booking accommodation in Ireland and around the world I like to use

I am not sponsored by the Irish Government or any Travel Group, I simply have written this post as I enjoy travelling. Please check out this blog for more independent travel ideas and my YouTube Channel. As always, videos can always be found on YouTube & Odysee. I use both as sadly YouTube is now censoring content whereas Odysee is for Free-Speech.

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Thank you - Alex van Terheyden AKA The Wondering Englishman



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