Rock of Cashel—A Stunning Display of Ireland's Past
A tour of the Rock of Cashel, a stunning monument that has mostly survived weather and time, is an intimate look into Ireland’s past. It is also a great tourist attraction for families, history buffs, and anyone who loves exploring the ruins of an old castle. Visitors who travel south from Dublin along highway M8 often take the exit R639 for the Rock of Cashel and for Cashel town right next to it.
R639 is a countryside road that winds through farmland and green, rolling hills. Travelers may find themselves curing around a hill and seeing the massive rock dominating the view. The complex rests atop a limestone hill in the Golden Vale in County Tipperary.
Historical sources date the site back to 450 AD, when St. Patrick reportedly converted Aengus, the King of Munster, to Christianity. King Aengus built there an extensive walled citadel to serve as a palace and defensive redoubt.
The lords of Munster ruled over much of southern Ireland from Cashel, otherwise known as the “city of kings,” starting in the 5th Century. In 1101, they gave control of Cashel to Christian monks who added the chapel, cathedral, towers, walls, and other structures. It became the center of the Irish Church.
Today, the castle goes through periodic projects of restoration, but it doesn’t stop visitors from touring the remains. They include the restored Hall of the Vicars Choral, a 12th century round tower, the High Cross and Romanesque Chapel, a 13th-century Gothic cathedral, and a 15th-century castle.
Hall of Vicar’s Choral
Visitors park in a lot below the castle, walk up a road to the top, and go through the small welcome center within the Hall of Vicar’s Choral. Residents built the hall in the 15th century.
After paying for tickets, visitors can veer to the immediate right for a brief tour of a small museum and what remains of interior rooms. The museum includes the original St. Patrick’s Cross as well as an audio-visual display.
Next, they can go straight outside for the views of the countryside and the ruins. Once outside, note the seven-foot-tall carved rock that is a replica of St. Patrick’s Cross, which reputedly was the original coronation stone of the Munster kings. The real draw is the Bishop’s Castle on the left that overlooks the countryside, St. Patrick’s Cathedral almost straight ahead, and Cormac’s Chapel to the right.
Puritans pillaged the cathedral in 1647 and reportedly killed 3,000 people. Many of the dead were burned alive in the cathedral
St. Patrick's Cathedral
St. Patrick’s Cathedral was built in 1169 and consists of the south transept, the north transept, the crossing, and the choir.
The Earl of Kildare burned the cathedral in 1495. The earl told King Henry VII that he burned it because he thought the bishop was inside. Because of that response, the king appointed him Lord Deputy for Ireland.
Puritans pillaged the cathedral in 1647 and reportedly killed 3,000 people. Many of the dead were burned alive in the cathedral. It was rebuilt again but abandoned in 1748.
The cathedral walls still stand, but the roof is gone. But on a good weather day, the lack of a roof makes the view even more impressive.
The north transept offers one of the most photographed views of the cathedral with its tall arching walls outlined against clouds and blue sky. Note the carvings of beasts, apostles, and other saints.
The 92-foot-tall round tower, standing in the right corner of the north transept, dates back to 995 AD. The early residents built it as a lookout for Vikings and later invaders.
To the right lies the choir which contains the tomb of Myler MaGrath, the Protestant Archbishop of Cashel of the late 16th and early 17th centuries.
Midway between the north and south transepts is The Crossing, a majestic arch where the four the cathedral’s four sections come together.
Cormac McCarthy, King of Desmond and Bishop of Cashel, built the red sandstone chapel in 1127. It is known as one of the oldest and best-preserved examples of Romanesque architecture from early Ireland.
The Romanesque chapel includes a remarkable but broken sarcophagus that may have been Cormac McCarthy’s final resting place.
At the time of this writing, the Chapel was undergoing restoration. Access is available only through guided tours.
Cemetery and Outside Tour
The cemetery behind the cathedral is a solemn and photographic experience. We spent most of our tour walking among the gray and white crusty tombstones, reading the inscriptions and enjoying the views of the vast green countryside.
It has many plots of past bishops and other residents, some of which are so old that the names wore off the tombstones centuries ago. It also has many Irish high crosses, which are free-standing Christian crosses made of stone and often decorated.
The cemetery area also has some of the best external views of the chapel, cathedral, round tower and The Crossing.
The cemetery behind the cathedral is a solemn and photographic experience.
Fees and Hours
Guided tours are available. It takes about one to two hours to tour the ruins depending on the number of photographs and whether visitors explore on their own or join a guided tour.
- Mid-September to mid-October daily: 9 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. Last admission at 4.45.
- Mid-October to mid-March daily: 9 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. Last admission at 3.45 p.m.
- Mid-March to early June daily: 9 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. Last admission at 4.45 p.m.
- Early June to mid-September daily: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Last admission at 6.15 p.m.
- Adult: 6 Euros
- Sen/Group: 4 Euros
- Child/Student: 2 Euros
- Family: 14 Euros
Best Times to Visit
The best times to visit the Rock of Cashel depends much more on the temperatures than the risk of rain.
The nearby city of Kilkenny averages about two to three inches of rain or snow per month nearly every month of the year, according to the Irish Meteorological Service. It also has a fairly consistent number of days with rain each month (ranging between 10 and 14 days each).
Temperatures vary much more. The average high temperature reaches into the 60s Fahrenheit from May through September. It drops into the 40s from December through February.
Town of Cashel
The town of Cashel makes a visit to the Rock of Cashel even more worthwhile.
Located only about a quarter of a mile from the castle, the town offers many small pubs and diners for anyone with time for lunch, dinner or a good Irish ale.
Tourists who spend more than 15 Euros in town at participating businesses will get a free admission to Rock of Cashel. Be sure to ask for the voucher from the business.
While in town, a quick attraction is St. John the Baptist Church, one of the oldest active Catholic churches in Ireland that dates back to 1795.
Rock of Cashel Map
© 2015 Scott Bateman