Lonely Planet review
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.
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 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. The cathedral was used for worship until the mid-1700s.
Among the graves are a 19th-century high cross and mausoleum for local landowners the Scully family; the top of the Scully Cross was razed by lightning in 1976.
It's a five-minute stroll from the town centre up to the Rock. You can take some pretty paths including the Bishop's Walk from the gardens of the Cashel Palace Hotel. Sheep grudgingly allow you to pass. The scaffolding moves from place to place each year as part of the never-ending struggle to keep the Rock caulked.
Call ahead for details of guided tours.