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.