On my first attempt to visit the Rock of Cashel, I arrived a little too late in the day. I know, my bad. On the second attempt, I was better prepared. I was early and had plenty of time to explore. I rocked on up that hill and then discovered they weren’t allowing anyone onto the site as there were very high winds on the day and it was unsafe. Foiled again. So, when my brother came to stay a couple of weeks ago, I thought it might be a good time to try again and this time I finally made it inside. Yay!
What exactly is the Rock of Cashel?
So what’s the big deal about a rock and is it really worth all that effort to visit, I hear you ask! From the 4th century, the Rock of Cashel – also know as St Patrick’s Rock or Cashel of the kings – served as a fortress and the traditional seat of the kings of Munster, until it was gifted to the church in 1101. As you can see from the photos, it’s much more than a mere rock. It’s an entire complex. Excavation work revealed evidence of buildings and burial sites from the 9th or 10th century. However, the collection of spectacular medieval buildings which remain today, date from after it passed to the church. It was developed into a major Christian centre and the buildings include a 12th century round tower, 13th century Gothic Cathedral, 15th century castle and Cormac’s Chapel, a magnificent Romanesque Church.
The frescoes in Cormac’s Chapel are the oldest Romanesque wall paintings in Ireland. They were actually whitewashed over during the Reformation and were not discovered again until the 1980s. Unfortunately the chapel was not open when we were there. Restoration work is ongoing and so if you really want to see inside, it would pay to call ahead and check to see if it will be open.
As well as the buildings, you will find many impressive high crosses among the graves on the site. There are also beautiful panoramic views out across the surrounding countryside, which is part of the Golden Vale region.
A word of warning
A word of warning, particularly to photographers. You may spend all day here and find yourself unable to leave! And while I would definitely recommend you get inside, if possible, the Rock of Cashel definitely looks most impressive from outside. Sitting proudly over the town of Cashel on a dramatic limestone outcrop, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to photographing and enjoying this beauty. So spend some time in town and wander the streets and nearby surrounds to fully appreciate this iconic site from all angles.
Do your homework!
Ok, so I have to admit that my visit was not a total success. As well as missing out on Cormac’s Chapel we missed out on the guided tours too. They were apparently only doing two tours that day and we had missed both, so had to be content with wandering around ourselves. It wasn’t a big deal but I do like to get the inside info that the tours provide. According to the Heritage Ireland page, times vary for the guided tours. So again it’s probably best to call and check times, if you’d like to avail of one. As for me, maybe I’ll get lucky on visit number four!
Visit the Rock of Cashel for Free
Like many Heritage Ireland sites, you can can visit the Rock of Cashel for free on the first Wednesday of each month. A number of local businesses can also provide a voucher for free access to the Rock if you spent over €15. So if you’re staying over, having a bite to eat or doing some shopping, ask whether the business participates in this incentive scheme.