Rising from the Golden Vale of Tipperary, steeped in mythology and immersed in over two millennia of history, the Rock of Cashel, also known as Cashel of the Kings and St. Patrick’s Rock (Carraig Phádraig), is a historic site in Ireland’s province of Munster. The Rock of Cashel served as the traditional seat of the Kings of Munster for several hundred years prior to the Norman invasion, though few remnants if any of the early structures survive. The majority of buildings on the current site date from the 12th and 13th centuries.
Two of the most famous people of Irish legend and history are associated with the Rock of Cashel. They are St. Patrick whom according to legend, arrived in Cashel in AD 432 and baptised King Aengus who became Ireland’s first Christian ruler. The second was Brian Boru, who was crowned High King in 990. He is the only king who was able to unite all of Ireland under one ruler for any significant period of time.
The buildings which crown the Rock of Cashel present a mass and outline of great complexity, rivalling other sites in western Europe. The complex has a character of its own, unique and native, and is one of the most remarkable collections of Celtic art and medieval architecture to be found anywhere in Europe. According to local lore, the Rock of Cashel originated from Devil’s Bit when St. Patrick banished Satan from a cave, resulting in the Rock to land in Cashel.
The Cathedral, built between 1235 and 1270, is an aisle-less building of cruciform plan, having a central tower and terminating westwards in a massive residential castle. The Hall of the Vicars Choral was built in the fifteenth century. The restoration of the Hall was undertaken by the Office of Public Works (OPW) as a project in connection with the European Architectural Heritage Year, 1975. It is now the building through which visitors enter the site.
In 1647, during the Irish Confederate Wars, Cashel was sacked by English Parliamentarian troops under Murrough O’Brien, 1st Earl of Inchiquin. The Irish Confederate troops there were massacred, as were the Roman Catholic clergy, including Theobald Stapleton. Inchiquin’s troops also looted or destroyed many important religious artifacts.
In 1749 the main cathedral roof was removed by Archbishop Arthur Price.
The grounds around the buildings are home to an extensive graveyard, which includes a number of high crosses. The entire plateau atop the rock, on which the buildings and graveyard lie, is walled. Scully’s Cross, one of the largest and most famous high crosses on Cashel, originally constructed in 1867, was destroyed in 1976 when lightning struck a metal rod that ran the length of the cross. The remains of the top of the cross now lie at the base of the cross adjacent to the rock wall.