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-HOME AT FIRST's

ADVENTURE

CENTRAL IRELAND

Great Castles of Ireland

— SECOND IN A SERIES —

The Rock of Cashel

Cashel, County Tipperary

Brian Bórú's

Celtic Fortress

MORE IRISH CASTLES:     BUNRATTY      CAHIR      CRAGGAUNOWEN      DUNGUAIRE      KNAPPOGUE 

  BRITISH CASTLES  

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN FEBRUARY, 2006.                                          MOST RECENT UPDATE: 2014.

          The classic castle, like great art, is difficult to define. Ask anyone to describe his or her idealized castle, and you may get the same answer you commonly hear for great art: "I know what I like, and I’ll know it when I see it."
          We love castles — of all shapes and sizes and all states of repair. We have our favorites, too, just like we have our favorite music and painters. In this new series we will present castle we have enjoyed and hope our enthusiasm compels the reader to make their own pilgrimage to these great shrines of history and monuments to imagination.

          Our second nomination — Central Ireland’s Rock of Cashel — is wonderfully photogenic, very accessible, was the home of Ireland's greatest royalty, and, while principally a medieval ruin, has a history that extends long before there was written history in Ireland. A major tourist attraction in modern Ireland, the Rock of Cashel provides visitors the opportunity to touch a thousand-year-old relic of medieval Ireland and imagine the island's much older, mysterious prehistory.


 

HISTORY & MYSTERY
          The Rock of Cashel is great, and important, and, without question, deserves inclusion on any list of major historical sites of Ireland. But — no disrespect intended — the Rock of Cashel is not Ireland’s
Tower of London, its Great Pyramid, its Angkor Wat, its Neuschwanstein Castle, or its Great Wall, although it has elements of all of these. Go to the Rock of Cashel expecting something less than compelling architecture perfectly preserved and presented. No. Go to the Rock of Cashel for its imperfections. They hint at its mystery as much as its history by telling an incomplete story of ancient Ireland and leaving much to your imagination. And in Ireland history — like life itself — is very much left to individual interpretation.

ONE MILLENNIUM VISIBLE,

ONE MILLENNIUM IMAGINED

          The Rock of Cashel is a collection of structures built over many centuries atop a
200-foot-high limestone outcropping in southern

The Rock of Cashel: its long history contains gaps of great mystery, mirroring that of Ireland itself. Photo © Home At First.
The Rock of Cashel's long history
contains gaps of great mystery,
mirroring that of Ireland itself.

Photo © Home At First.

County Tipperary. Set amidst a fertile and not

 

especially hilly landscape, the Rock is easily seen from distance. There’s no mystery why it was chosen as a site for a fortress. Stand at the base of the hill and the fortress above still appears impregnable. Although most of the structures atop the Rock are medieval — dating not earlier than 1100AD — archeologists believe the site has been fortified much longer. One story tells us that the Rock of Cashel had long been the home castle of the Kings of Munster, (along with Leinster, Connacht, and Ulster) one of the four kingdoms of Celtic Ireland. Another tells us that Saint Patrick himself visited the Rock of Cashel in the mid-5th century and converted King Aenghus of Munster to Christianity, declaring Cashel a bishopric of the Irish Church. A cross was erected atop the Rock 800 or more years later to commemorate Patrick’s visit.

 

Looking up at The Rock of Cashel from the valley floor of the Golden Vale. Photo © Shirley Barnes; used with permission.
Looking up at The Rock of Cashel
from the Golden Vale.

Photo © Shirley Barnes; used with permission.

BRIAN BÓRÚ:
FIRST HIGH KING OF IRELAND

          The Rock of Cashel has even stronger associations with Ireland’s greatest secular leader. The great and daring warrior prince,
Brian Bórú, was crowned King of Munster at Cashel in 977. Twenty-five years later, Brian, who united the four kingdoms of Ireland in common cause against Viking invaders, was crowned first High King of Ireland. Although the Rock served as Brian’s home fortress, but he maintained his residence in his boyhood home, at Killaloe, the pretty County Clare town at the southern end of Lough

 

Derg. Sadly for Ireland, Brian Bórú was killed by

retreating Vikings at the conclusion of the Battle of Clontarf near Dublin. Brian’s unified Celts had effectively pushed the invaders out of Ireland, much like Saint Patrick had rid the island of snakes 500 years earlier. A Heritage Centre (named after Brian) called Brú Bórú has been built at the base of the Rock of Cashel. It is devoted to Ireland’s Celtic culture: music, dance, storytelling, and theatre.

 

BUILDING ITS HOUSE ON THE ROCK
          Meanwhile, back on the top of the Rock, virtually everything you can see dates from 100 years or more after Brian Bórú was High King of Ireland. When Brian’s O’Brien clan descendants deeded the Rock of Cashel to the church in 1101, a period of remarkable architectural change began, converting the early medieval fortress to a high medieval ecclesiastical center and seat of the archbishop. First to be built was the 90-foot high round tower, one of many of these typical Celtic towers still standing in former religious sites throughout Ireland. Soon afterwards, Cormac’s

Medieval sarcophagus in Cormac's Chapel at The Rock of Cashel. Photo © Shirley Barnes; used with permission.
Medieval sarcophagus in Cormac's
Chapel at The Rock of Cashel.
Photo © Shirley Barnes; used with permission.

Chapel was built in Romanesque style and

 

decorated with some of Ireland’s finest medieval frescoes. A century later a much larger church, the Cathedral, was added to the Rock. It is built in the shape of a cross with a prominent central tower. One arm of the Cathedral ends in an impressive castle structure that served to house residents of the Rock of Cashel. Ireland’s last Cistercian Abbey, Hore Abbey, was erected in the flats of the Golden Vale below the Rock, close enough that the fortified hill could offer the monks safe haven from invading marauders.

 

The Round Tower-- oldest structure at The Rock of Cashel. Photo © Shirley Barnes; used with permission.

TURMOIL & TREACHERY
          That this unusual complex combined architecture that was partly religious and partly fortified is logical for Cashel, and for the Ireland of the Middle Ages, a time when invaders — first Vikings, then Anglo-Normans — and inter-clan warfare required that even the church protect itself with the strongest of defenses. Ultimately, the Rock of Cashel succumbed to the unrest that continued to wash across Ireland in 1647. Ironically, the final sacking of the great medieval fortress/church came at the end of the turbulent Middle Ages, at the hands of Anglo-Irish Protestants under the leadership of another of the O’Brien clan, the Earl of Inchiquinn, surrogate of England’s Oliver Cromwell. The Rock of Cashel was destroyed, and its Catholic clergy and nationalist Irish Confederate Army were killed by the same family that had once built this greatest of Irish medieval fortress complexes.

The Round Tower: oldest structure at The Rock of Cashel.
Photo © Shirley Barnes; used with permission.

   

VISITING THE ROCK TODAY

          A visit to the Rock of Cashel today gives you a sense of how life may have been during the Middle Ages in Ireland. The complex is still a ruin, and the stone is as much worn by centuries of Irish gales as by Cromwell’s Parliamentarian army. The Rock of Cashel draws crowds, too — not, perhaps like the Blarney Stone or the Guinness Brewery — but enough so that on any fine weather day you can expect lots of other visitors. Walking through the labyrinth of passages at Cashel provides you with surprises: the life-size stone effigy of a knight, a colorful fresco, the broad, green view of the Golden Vale from the ramparts of the castle or the Cathedral tower. It becomes easy to imagine the Rock of Cashel to be something like and Irish Camelot, an image not lost on filmmakers who have used the site as a movie set.


 

IF YOU GO: The Rock of Cashel

COUNTY TIPPERARY IRELAND

Photo © Home At First

 

Location: Just west off the N8 at the northern entrance to Cashel town 500m from the town center.

Getting There from Home At First’s Central Ireland lodgings: take the R498 southeast from Nenagh to Thurles, then the R660 south via Holy Cross Abbey (itself worth a visit) to Cashel. Total drive time, less than 2 hours.

The ruins of Cistercian Hore Abbey lie in the flats of the Great Vale below The Rock of Cashel. Hore Abbey was "dissolved" by England's King Henry VIII when he created the Anglican Church in the 16th century. Photo © Home At First.
The ruins of Cistercian Hore Abbey lie in the
flats of the Great Vale below The Rock of
Cashel. The abbey was "dissolved" by
England's King Henry VIII when he created
the Anglican Church in the 16th century.

Photo © Home At First

 

The Rock of Cashel. Photo © Home At First.
The Rock of Cashel
Photo © Home At First

Opening Hours Daily: Mid-March to Early-June: 9AM-5:30PM; Early-June to Mid-September: 9AM-7PM; Mid-Sept. to Mid-October: 9AM-5:30PM; Mid-October to Mid-March: 9AM-4:30PM. Closed December 24-26.

Admission: €6/adult; €4/senior; €2/student/child; €14/family.

Parking & Toilets: A sizeable public parking lot and public toilets are located close to the monument.

Guided Tours are available and require 45 minutes. Phone ahead for times. Download an official PRINTED GUIDE.

Telephone: +353 (0)62 61437.

 

OTHER ATTRACTIONS IN THE AREA:

Tipperary Town: the county town of the South Riding (southern half) of County Tipperary is an authentic Irish agricultural market town, warts and all. Discover real rural Ireland here by walking its streets, shopping its stores, and eating lunch in a pub or café.

CAHIR CASTLE: Well preserved medieval fortress castle on an island in the River Suir in the center of Caher town. Eight miles S of Cashel on Route N8.

Swiss Cottage: the fanciful thatched hunting lodge of English Regency architect John Nash is on the SE edge of Caher along Rt. R670.

 

 

— VISIT THE ROCK OF CASHEL —
as part of your next visit to Ireland.

This article comes from Home At First's exclusive
"Ireland Activities Guide" that comes to you as part of your trip.

Learn all about Home At First's travel programs to: IRELAND.

Home At First offers travel to four great regions of Ireland. Have your own cottage in
CENTRAL IRELAND, SOUTHERN IRELAND, NORTHWESTERN IRELAND, OR NORTHERN IRELAND.
Minimum rental is one week, and you can mix and match with other
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throughout
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Home At First to Britain & Ireland, see: BRITISH ISLES.

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