One of the most spectacular and the most visited tourist attractions in Ireland is the Rock of Cashel.
It is sometimes mistakenly called “Castle on the Rock” and meanwhile it is not a castle but a “cashel”. This word is an anglicized version of the Irish word “caiseal”, meaning a fortress. It was originally a stone fort on the hill that was the seat of the kings of Munster. Hence, Rock of Cashel is literally “Fortress on the Rock,” also known as Cashel of the Kings and also as St. Patrick’s Rock.
According to legend, the Rock was formed by Satan, who flew over this place with a huge boulder in his teeth. When he saw Saint Patrick getting ready to erect a new church on this site, shocked he dropped the stone, creating the Rock of Cashel. A carved image of a flying Satan is placed on one of the boards, which was made in the 11th century in one of the rooms in the castle.
The famous Rock of Cashel is located in southern Ireland in County Tipperary. Currently, it is a complex of medieval sacral and defensive buildings, situated on a steep limestone hill around which a town called Cashel was founded.
The history of Rock of Cashel goes back to ancient times. It is believed that this place was a druidic centre in the past. From the 4th century the Kings of Munster used it for ceremonial purposes. According to legend, Saint Patrick baptized King Aengus here.
Another legend says that it was here where Saint Patrick picked up a clover to use its example to explain to the locals the idea of the Holy Trinity – three entities (three leaves), which in fact constitute one. Since that event, the clover was taken as the unofficial symbol of Ireland. After Saint Patrick’s baptism in the 5th century, the Rock of Cashel became an important Christian centre. In the 12th century, most of Rock was handed over to the church. In 1647, there was an invasion of English troops, which destroyed many buildings (some were restored at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries).
Rock of Cashel is an ideal place for a one day trip. Open all year round (from 9am to 7pm). Average duration of the visit: 1-1.5 hours. All repairs have been completed here, there are no scaffolding anymore and you can visit the surroundings and the interior. There is a large car park on site (payable) and the cost of a ticket to visit the entire fortress is 8 euro (for adults).
The Rock of Cashel complex includes: Hall of the Vicars, Cathedral, Central Tower, Round Tower, Cemetery and Cormac’s Chapel with a Dormitory. The entire area at the top of the rock is walled.
Visitors enter the Rock of Cashel complex through the Hall of the Vicars. In the 15th century, this room served as a living room for people called cantors (clergy responsible for singing during the mass). The hall has been restored for the European Year of Architecture (1975) and contains a small museum of artifacts excavated on the Rock of Cashel. The main exhibit in the Cantors Room is the Cross. It is the original Cross of Saint Patrick, whose plinth is, according to tradition, the coronation stone of the Kings of Munster. On one side of the Cross there is a sculpture of Jesus, and on the other side of St. Patrick. The left arm rests on a support (the other one has not survived), which probably symbolizes the thief crucified with Christ. The cross is devoid of the “auroerola” characteristic of Irish crosses.
After leaving the Cantor Hall, we can admire the ruins of the monumental Cathedral on the hill, the construction of which began around the 30s of the 13th century. Initially, it was supposed to be in the Anglo-Norman style, with Gothic arches and windows. In the end, it was built without any help or models from abroad.
There is an amazing panoramic view of the area in front of the Cathedral. In the distance, we can see the ruins of the 13th-century Hore Abbey, which was the last Cistercian monastery completed before the Reformation. It was probably built by the builders of the Cathedral.
However, in front of the entrance, there is the same cross as the one we saw at the beginning of our trip in the Cantors Room. It is a replica of that unique piece. We can also find two characteristic towers here: the Middle Tower and the Round Tower. The first one is supported by gothic arches, equipped with wooden stairs that can be used to go up.
The earliest and most sublime structure on the Rock of Cashel is the Round Tower next to the north passage of the Cathedral. The 28-meter tower is the oldest structure of the Rock of Cashel. The shape tapering upwards suggests that it may come from the 10th century, although the official version dates it to the 12th century. Numerous windows provide a view on all sides of the world. The entrance door was originally 3.5 m above the ground. The tower is very well preserved.
There are remains of a vast cemetery in the grounds around the Cathedral, which include many beautiful crosses. To the left of the Round Tower we can see the remains of the one of the largest crosses in Ireland: the so-called Scully’s Cross. These are the tombs of the Scully’s family who previously owned the land, and the cross was built in 1867 to commemorate the entire family. It was the showcase of Rock of Cashel, but unfortunately in 1976 it fell apart as a result of a lightning strike during a storm.
An important element of the Rock of Cashel complex is also the 12th-century Cormac’s Chapel, which is considered one of the most beautiful Romanesque temples in Ireland. It is the oldest Irish church. It comes from the years 1127-1134. Inside there is a sarcophagus in which one of the most famous ancient rulers of Ireland, Cormac Mac Airt, is said to be buried. Six rows of pillars form a portico covered with a roof. On the tops of the arches you can see human heads, animals, grooves, volutes and capitals. On the wall opposite the entrance there are triple arcades with a large round window, which was once the source of light for the entire chapel. In the past, the interior was painted in vivid colors, the remains of which can still be seen above the altar and arcades. Finally, we have to see the Dormitory: the monks’ shared bedroom, which also serves as a dining room. Behind the wall there was a kitchen also faithfully restored today.
Rock of Cashel is impressive both inside and out. It has its own unique and original character and is one of the most remarkable collections of Celtic art and medieval architecture to be found in Europe. The place is wonderfully developed for tourists. As a Carlow resident, I envy County Tipperary such a legendary, wonderful attraction.
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