Sep 2019

Rock of Cashel

Learn all about the myths and the history of the Rock of Cashel

The Rock of Cashel has an important part in the myths and history of Ireland. From ancient times it was a fortress that looked across some of Ireland’s richest and most fertile lands. The word Cashel itself comes from the Irish word Caiseal meaning strong fortress.

It was held by the kings of Munster for generations until Brian Boru’s brother Mahon took the throne of Cashel in 963 and when Brian crowned himself King of Munster the ceremony told place at the Rock of Cashel. 

His later ascension to Emperor of the Irish took place on the Stone of Fál on the Hill of Tara. Legend says that the Stone would scream with joy when the rightful king would sit upon is and is said to have screamed during the coronation of Brian Boru in 1002. Brian Boru was the only High King to unify the whole island of Ireland under the one rule.

The Rock of Cashel is also known as St. Patrick's Rock for a number of reasons. One local legend has it that Saint Patrick banished Satan from a cave in a nearby mountain called Devil’s bit which resulted on the Rock’s landing in Cashel, such was the violence of the banishment. The name probably actually came about as Cashel is reputed to be the site of the baptism of King Aengus of Munster by Saint Patrick in 432. Aengus became Ireland’s first Christian king.

In 1101, the King of Munster, Muirchertach Ua Briain, donated his fortress on the Rock to the Church and from then on it was an important ecclesiastical site that houses one of the most remarkable collections of Celtic art and medieval architecture to be found anywhere in Europe.

It was brutally sacked by English Parliamentarian troops which were part of the Cromwellian forces in 1647 which led to a massacre of over 1000 people and extensive looting. Whatever wasn’t stolen was destroyed or defaced and the town of Cashel was torched by the departing soldiers. 

Control of Cashel was given back to the church but for some unexplained and bizarre reason Anglican Archbishop of Cashel Arthur Price had the main cathedral roof was removed in 1749, a decision which has been roundly criticised and which led to the open state of the cathedral to this day.

Stephen lying down on the job. Ensuring his 500th guided tour of the Cashel is as passion-filled as his first requires a lot of energy!

Now the Rock of Cashel consists of an impressive group of buildings including a round tower, a 13th century (roofless) cathedral, 15th century castle, a High Cross and a Romanesque Chapel, as well as the remains of ancient buildings and tombstones all built on a rock plateau. The views are as spectacular as ever from the Rock. You can gaze out at the same countryside as did Brian Boru ten centuries ago.

You can see the Rock of Cashel in all its timeless glory on our Wild Atlantic and Castles and Classics Tours. Click the button to get more information and check out our dates!

Stephen McPhilemy, Chief Tour Guide of Essential Ireland Tours, playing his wee tin whistle inside the ruins of St.Patrick’s Cathedral, Rock of Cashel

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