Rock Of Cashel.

On my final tour of the year as a tour director with Trafalgar tours ( see Trafalgar Homepage ) we had the pleasure of visiting the Rock Of Cashel towards the end of the tour. This is a very interesting site and has huge significance for the people of Ireland, and particularly the people of Munster right to this day.

Munster is the southern province of Ireland and one of the four ancient Kingdoms of Ireland. The King of Munster sat here and ruled from the Rock of Cashel probably from the fourth century until the 12th century when the O Brien’s gifted the rock to the church. According to our tour guide on the day, this was done really to deter the rival McCarthy dynasty from establishing a claim to the Rock of Cashel. However, it is worth remembering that this was also when the Norman conquest of Ireland was happening. In any event the church made full use of the site and built many beautiful buildings in the ensuing years including a cathedral.

The Rock stands as an iconic, dominating presence in the local area with great views extening in to the sorrounding countryside. It is easy to see why it held such significance for the people of Munster in times past and indeed it still stands as a powerful monument. It is known by locals simply as ” the Rock” and even viewing it from afar, it has a strong impact has a powerful monument with a rich history.

Buildings @ The Rock Of Cashel

Among the prominent structures at the Rock of Cashel is the iconic Round Tower, a cylindrical edifice standing over 28 meters tall. Built in the 12th century, the tower served various purposes, including as a bell tower, a place of refuge, and a symbol of ecclesiastical authority.

The stand out building is probably Cormac’s Chapel, an architectural gem dating back to the 12th century. Built in the Romanesque style, it is only available for private tours which need to be booked in advance. According to our tour guide on the day, access is limited as having many people breathing in the indoor space was doing damage to the plaster work and intricate carvings inside it, following a recent renovation. . Along with intricate carvings and a featuring a barrel-vaulted ceiling it also houses the renowned Cormac’s Cross, an elaborately decorated high cross.

The Cathedral, another notable structure, showcases a mix of Gothic and Romanesque elements. Constructed in the 13th century, the cathedral bears witness to the changing architectural styles over the centuries. Our guide on the day told as the horrowing story of the massacre of Catholic soldiers and civilians by Cromwell’s army in the mid 17th century.

Adjacent to the cathedral is the High Cross, a masterpiece of Celtic artistry with detailed biblical scenes and intricate carvings. These Celtic crosses are a beautiful symbol of Celtic Chrisianity enclosing the Christian cross inside a circle which symbolises the circle of nature and of life. These high crosses, scattered throughout the site, offer a glimpse into the craftsmanship and distinctive Celtic flavour of Irish Christianity in the medieval period. The Hall of the Vicars Choral, a 15th-century structure, adds further architectural diversity with its Gothic design.

The multifaceted architecture of the Rock of Cashel reflects its evolution through different eras and the amalgamation of various architectural styles. Each building tells a story of religious, cultural, and political significance, contributing to the historical tapestry of Ireland. Visiting the Rock of Cashel is a journey through time, where these remarkable structures stand as enduring testaments to Ireland’s rich and complex heritage.

Rock Of Cashel and Cromwellian campaign:

The Rock of Cashel, a historic fortress in Ireland, played a significant role during Cromwell’s campaign in the mid-17th century. In 1649, Oliver Cromwell led the Parliamentarian forces in the Irish Confederate Wars, a conflict fueled by religious and political tensions. The Rock of Cashel, perched atop a limestone hill, became a strategic stronghold contested between Cromwell’s army and the Irish Confederate and Royalist forces.

Cromwell’s campaign was marked by a ruthless determination to suppress Royalist and Catholic resistance. The Rock of Cashel, a symbol of medieval Irish kingship and ecclesiastical power, represented a formidable obstacle for Cromwell’s forces. In 1649, the Parliamentarians besieged the fortress, eventually leading to its surrender. The capture of the Rock of Cashel was a pivotal moment in Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland.

The campaign reflected the broader dynamics of the time, where religious conflicts intertwined with political struggles. Cromwell’s military strategies emphasized siege warfare, and the fall of significant strongholds like the Rock of Cashel contributed to the ultimate subjugation of Ireland by the Parliamentarians. The aftermath of Cromwell’s campaign included widespread land confiscations and political upheaval, leaving a lasting impact on the socio-political landscape of Ireland.

The Rock of Cashel, witness to centuries of Irish history, stood as a symbol of resistance during Cromwell’s campaign, yet its capture represented a turning point in the broader context of the Irish Confederate Wars. The events surrounding the Rock of Cashel serve as a testament to the complex interplay of religion, politics, and military strategy during this tumultuous period in Ireland’s history.

Religious and spiritual significance of The Rock of Cahel today:

The tour finished amonst the gravestones which adorn the site adjacent to the Cathedral. This is a common feature of these type of monuments in Ireland today. Often the ruins of old monasteries and churches were used as burial grounds in medieval times. While it strikes the modern eye as odd to do this, I think we need to make an imaginative leap in to the medieval mind to understand this. These would have been considered sacred sites to locals and in a time before complex planning proceedures and indeed mass tourism, we can view them as a testament to the spiritual significance that the local people bestowed on them.

I was amazed to learn that a body was interred in a grave there as recently as 2019. This is because the locals who have family buried there are permitted to continue using it.

The Rock itself is associated with both the church of Ireland ( protestant) and Catholic communities nowadays. It’s spiritual significance to the people of Ireland is largely as a symbol of the days when we had our own provincial Kingdoms and the Gaelic aristocracy held sway. The Cromwelian massacre is also widely remembered as one of a series of atrocities associated with the Cromwelian campaign.

It’s appearance on the landscape is arresting and stands as a powerful landmark dominating the area. One can instantly understand how it became the focal point for both secular and spiritual power over the generations and why it was an important site during the Cromwellian campaigns. It is well worth visiting. On the occasions I have been here, I have been impressed with the tour guides.

My Visit to the Jameson Distillery in Midleton, Cork

( please note Jameson Middleton Distillery is currently closed ( November 2023) due to flooding in October 2023 ( see for current updates)

Whiskey Jokes

Here are a couple of whiskey jokes to get us started. This first one is one i like to tell on tour –

Mikey emigrated from Ireland to New York and gets a job working in construction. No matter where he is working in the city however, he always found his way to Molly’s his favourite Irish pub in the city and invariably orders three whiskies. The first time he does this, the barman asks him why he is ordering three whiskies to which he replies – ” when I left Ireland I promised my two brothers id have a whiskey for each of them every day while we all still live” – this goes on for fifty years. And then one Thursday evening Mikey shows up and orders two whiskies. Im terribly sorry says the barman, did something happen to one of your brothers. – “Ah no”, says Mikey,” Ive decided to quit drinking”

and on a more subtle ( adn slightly surreal note

Whiskey is like a good friend. It’s always there for you, especially when you need it the most – like after a hard day dealing with people

Enough jokes – onwards and upwards and sideways with the blog

My Visit to Jameson ( finally)

As a tour guide it is my pleasure and privelidge to visit many of the attractions in Ireland. Having worked in tourism for over ten years now, I have visited the Jameson distillery a few times but actually not for a number of years. So naturally I was delighted to be back. To be honest ( and to my shame), it was also my first time doing the tour. On previous occasions, I was too tied up with paper work to take the tour. It is remarkable I hadn’t done the tour previously however, as Jameson is only a half an hour from where i live in Cork. Typical of us tour guide’s to ignore our own back yards !

Anyway, I must say I thoroughly enjoyed the tour. I do enjoy the occasional whiskey and the history of the brewery is fascinating as it links the agricultural and industrial history of Ireland. Our guide was excellent and I must say I approve of the human touch. If I was to compare it with the Guinness Storehouse for example which is also a wonderful visitor experience ( you can read my review here), it can occasionally be a little impersonal. Having a dedicated guide for our group ( of about 40) added a welcome personal touch. The guide was affable, friendly and knowledgeable and gave a great tour encompassing both the history of the brewery and he was also very knowledgeable about the contemporary brewery which of course continues to export Irish whiskey all over the world

Morning whiskey ( or two)

This was also my last tour of the season and I was getting on great with the group so I was really in the mood to enjoy the experience. While I have always regarded an afternoon pint as a rare joy, lending a transcendant , perhaps even giddy, edge to a winters afternoon, the morning whiskey is something I have not really accustomed myself too ( and probably shouldn’t !). In reality I didn’t consume that much whiskey but it still threw a pleasant glow on the morning. ( I probably shoulda had breakfast though!)

The whiskies were, of course, delicious and delectable. In the tasting we sampled three different whiskies. If I remember correctly they were Jameson black barrel, a midleton and a red breast. My favourite was probably the Jameson. There was also an included whiskey at the end of the tour.

The tour itself

We started with a tour of the old distillery which was interesting and informative. We learned about the mashing of the barley, the fermentation and the multiple distillations required to make whiskey. The aging process was also expertly described by our guide.

It was interesting to learn that the site was chosen as the main distillery due to the barley that can be grown successfully in the south east of Ireland. While Ireland has a reputation as a rainy country, this part of Ireland is known as the sunny south east and enjoys a sunnier, drier climate than the West coast in particular, and is ideal for growing barley.

We finished up with a little whiskey tasting as mentioned above.

History of the distillery

The Jameson Distillery in Midleton, County Cork, Ireland, is an iconic establishment with a rich history dating back over two centuries. Its story is intertwined with the history of Irish whiskey itself, making it a landmark in the world of spirits.

The story of the Jameson Distillery begins in 1780 when John Jameson, a Scottish lawyer, acquired the Bow Street Distillery in Dublin. John Jameson’s vision and commitment to producing high-quality whiskey laid the foundation for the success of the Jameson brand. In 1820, the Bow Street Distillery began distilling its famous triple-distilled whiskey, a practice that continues at Midleton today.

As the popularity of Jameson Irish whiskey grew, so did the need for expansion. In the late 18th century, to accommodate increased production and better access to quality ingredients, John Jameson’s son, John Jameson II, made the pivotal decision to move the distillery from Dublin to Midleton, County Cork. This move to Midleton allowed for greater access to the region’s exceptional barley and pure water, essential ingredients in whiskey production.

By the 19th century, Jameson had become one of the largest and most reputable distilleries in Ireland. The Midleton distillery grew in size and sophistication, incorporating modern equipment and techniques while maintaining the traditional craftsmanship that defines Irish whiskey. This approach played a significant role in setting Jameson apart from other whiskey producers.

In 1966, the Midleton Distillery became the hub for all Jameson production, uniting the various distilleries owned by the Irish Distillers Group. This move was a crucial step in consolidating Jameson’s position as a leading Irish whiskey brand and ensuring the whiskey’s consistent quality and flavor.

Throughout the years, the Midleton Distillery has continued to innovate. It introduced several new expressions of Jameson, including Jameson Black Barrel, Jameson Caskmates, and Redbreast Irish whiskey, which have garnered acclaim from whiskey enthusiasts around the world. The distillery is also responsible for producing other well-known Irish whiskey brands like Powers and Green Spot.

In 1988, the Jameson Experience visitor center was established at the Midleton Distillery, opening its doors to the public. This provided an opportunity for whiskey enthusiasts to learn about the history and production process of Jameson Irish whiskey. The visitor center offers guided tours, tastings, and interactive exhibits, making it a popular destination for tourists and whiskey aficionados.

In recent years, Jameson has continued to expand its global reach, becoming one of the most recognized Irish whiskey brands worldwide. Its success can be attributed to the commitment to traditional methods, quality ingredients, and the pioneering spirit that began with John Jameson in the 18th century.

Today, the Jameson Distillery in Midleton, Cork, stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of Irish whiskey production. It combines history, innovation, and craftsmanship, allowing visitors to experience the heritage and flavor of this iconic Irish spirit. The Midleton Distillery remains at the heart of the Jameson brand, producing exceptional whiskey that is cherished and celebrated by people across the globe.

Visiting Jameson Distillery

Jameson Distellery is located in Middleton about a half an hour drive from Cork city. If you are driving between Cork and Waterford it makes for a very convenient and pleasant stop. There is also a train service to Midleton from Cork city and a good bus service too. Tours ( with tasting) available from 26Euro but please note Jameson Middleton is currently closed due to flooding in October 2023

Traveling to Ireland

If you do wish to travel to Ireland, do consider a coach tour with Trafalgar tours. This is the company that I work with. Coach tours are fun, convenient and great value.

Check out the link below

Trafalgar Homepage

My falconry experience in Dingle, Ireland

As a tour guide with Trafalgar Tours ( see Trafalgar Homepage ) and Insight Vacations it was my pleasure and privelidge to bring a group to Kingdom Faconry near Dingle town in Kerry, Ireland. This particular tour was with insight Vacations. It was a wonderful experience for everyone and i was delighted to take full part in the experience. The experience was led by Eric Witkowski who is originally Polish but has lived in Ireland for over 18 years.

He has a clear and strong passion for the birds and the art of falconry and he led the experience with impressive and pleasantly understated skill and ease. You can hear a lovely interview with Eric here curtesy of Radio Kerry

The experience was held at Miltown house on the outskirts of Dingle which was a very pleasant setting on the banks of the ocean at Dingle Bay. We were shown a wonderful array of birds including owls, hawks and falcons. We had the oppertunity to be up close and personal with many of the birds and the demonstrations were very impressive.

The highlight for me was having the birds on my arm and having that sort of encounter with a bird of prey was wonderfully unnerving, arresting and refreshing. It was a real break from the mundane confines of our typical lives and the experience really stuck with me.

It was interesting to hear that the falcons have eyesight nine times better than humans and that owls have exceptional hearing. It was also very special to see the relationship between Eric and the birds.

History of Falconry

Falconry’s historical roots extend into antiquity, with evidence of its practice dating back thousands of years. Its origins can be traced to different regions around the world, each contributing to the development and diversification of this ancient art.

1. Origins in Asia: Falconry is believed to have originated in Central Asia and the Middle East. In ancient Mesopotamia, there are cuneiform tablets that depict scenes of falconry dating back to around 2000 BC. The practice soon spread to China, where it was highly regarded, and emperors and nobility actively participated in falconry.

2. Medieval Europe: Falconry gained immense popularity in medieval Europe, particularly during the 9th to 17th centuries. It was not only a sport but a symbol of prestige and nobility. Kings and knights often engaged in falconry, and a complex system of ranks and titles for falconers emerged.

3. Influence of Islam: The Islamic world played a significant role in the development of falconry. The Arabic treatise, “The Book of the Falcon,” written by the Persian philosopher Ibn Hayyan in the 9th century, is one of the earliest comprehensive works on falconry. It was later translated into Latin and contributed to the spread of falconry in Europe.

4. Medieval Treatises: Several treatises and manuals on falconry were written during the Middle Ages, contributing to the preservation and spread of knowledge about the art. One of the most famous is “The Book of Saint Albans” by Juliana Berners, which was published in 1486 and addressed the rules and etiquette of falconry.

5. Far Eastern Influence: In Japan, the art of falconry was known as “takagari” and was practiced by the samurai class. In Mongolia, falconry remains an integral part of nomadic culture, particularly among the Kazakh people, who continue to hunt with golden eagles.

6. Decline and Revival: With the advent of firearms and changing social structures, falconry declined in popularity during the 17th century. However, it saw a resurgence in the 19th and 20th centuries as enthusiasts sought to preserve this ancient tradition. Organizations and clubs dedicated to falconry were established worldwide to promote its practice and ensure the welfare of raptors.

7. UNESCO Recognition: In 2010, UNESCO recognized falconry as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, acknowledging its cultural significance and the need to safeguard this tradition for future generations.

Falconry’s history is a fascinating journey through time, highlighting its role as a symbol of prestige, its influence on art and literature, and its adaptation to changing societal norms. Today, falconry continues to captivate people with its deep-rooted traditions and the enduring partnership between humans and raptors, connecting the past with the present.