Rock of Cashel
Lonely Planet review for Rock of Cashel
The Rock of Cashel is one of Ireland's most spectacular archaeological sites. The 'Rock' is a prominent green hill, banded with limestone outcrops. It rises from a grassy plain on the edge of the town and bristles with ancient fortifications – the word 'cashel' is an anglicised version of the Irish word caiseal, meaning 'fortress'. Sturdy walls circle an enclosure that contains a complete round tower, a 13th century Gothic cathedral and the finest 12th-century Romanesque chapel in Ireland. For more than 1000 years the Rock of Cashel was a symbol of power and the seat of kings and churchmen who ruled over the region. In the 4th century the Rock of Cashel was chosen as a base by the Eóghanachta clan from Wales, who went on to conquer much of Munster and become kings of the region. For some 400 years it rivalled Tara as a centre of power in Ireland. The clan was associated with St Patrick, hence the Rock's alternative name of St Patrick's Rock.
In the 10th century, the Eóghanachta lost possession of the rock to the O'Brien (or Dál gCais) tribe under Brian Ború's leadership. In 1101, King Muircheartach O'Brien presented the Rock to the Church, a move designed to curry favour with the powerful bishops and to end secular rivalry over possession of the Rock with the Eóghanachta, by now known as the MacCarthys. Numerous buildings must have occupied the Rock over the years, but it is the ecclesiastical relics that have survived even the depredations of the Cromwellian army in 1647.
It's a five-minute stroll from the town centre to the Rock. You can take some pretty paths including the Bishop's Walk, which ends in the gardens of the Cashel Palace Hotel. Sheep grudgingly allow you to pass. There are a couple of parking spaces for visitors with disabilities at the top of the approach road to the ticket office. The Rock is a major draw for coach parties for most of the year and is extremely busy during July and August: the sweeping views allow you to see a tour bus approaching from any dir ection like a raiding party. The scaffolding moves from place to place each year as part of the never-ending struggle to keep the Rock caulked.
There are reasonable photo opportunities for framing the Rock on the road into town from the Dublin Rd roundabout or the little roads just west of the centre. The best vantage points for photos, however, are from inside the ruins of Hore Abbey.
Call ahead for details of guided tours.