Rock Of Cashel, County Tipperary, Ireland

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Rock of Cashel

Top choice in County Tipperary

The Rock of Cashel is one of Ireland's most spectacular historic sites: a prominent green hill, banded with limestone outcrops, rising from a grassy plain and bristling with ancient fortifications. Sturdy walls circle an enclosure containing a round tower, a 13th-century Gothic cathedral and the finest 12th-century Romanesque chapel in Ireland, home to some of the land's oldest frescoes.

It's a five-minute stroll from the town centre up to the Rock, from where fantastic views range over the Tipperary countryside.

The word 'cashel' is an Anglicised version of the Irish word caiseal, meaning 'fortress' (related to the English 'castle', from the Latin castellum). 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 (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 cold and exposed Rock over the years, but it is the ecclesiastical relics that have survived even the depredations of the Cromwellian army in 1647. The vast medieval 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.

But the undoubted highlight of the Rock is the early-12th-century Cormac's Chapel, an exquisite gem of Romanesque architecture with beautifully carved doorways and the precious remains of colourful wall paintings. Access is by 45-minute guided tour only (€3 extra, book at entrance).

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby County Tipperary attractions

1. Brú Ború

0.12 MILES

This privately run cultural centre is next to the car park below the Rock of Cashel, and offers absorbing insights into Irish traditional music, dance and…

2. Cashel Folk Village

0.19 MILES

An engaging exhibition of old buildings, shopfronts and memorabilia from around the town. It's all a bit amateurish and slipshod, but in a charming, heart…

3. Cashel Heritage Centre

0.25 MILES

Located in the town hall alongside the tourist office, the displays here include a scale model of Cashel in the 1640s with an audio commentary.

4. Hore Abbey

0.34 MILES

The formidable ruin of 13th-century Hore Abbey (also known as Hoare Abbey or St Mary's) stands in flat farmland 1km west of the Rock of Cashel. Originally…

5. Athassel Priory

4.84 MILES

Reached over a stile and across grassy (sometimes muddy) fields, the atmospheric ruins of Athassel Priory sit in the shallow and verdant River Suir Valley…

6. Knockgraffon Motte

7.66 MILES

The 12th-century motte at Knockgraffon can be scaled for panoramic and wide-ranging views of the Tipperary countryside. The motte is located 5km along the…

7. Holy Cross Abbey

8.31 MILES

The pretty village of Holycross, with its thatched cottages, eight-arch stone bridge across the River Suir, and village green dotted with ducks, is 15km…

8. Fethard Horse Country Experience

9.06 MILES

Housed in Fethard's 17th-century Tholsel (town hall), this museum traces the role of the horse in Irish history and culture, from military steeds and…