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Ireland History-
Crucial Moments In The 1,000 Year History Of The Rock Of Cashel

One Thousand years of Ireland history come together in one iconic and well known Irish heritage site- The Rock of Cashel at the small town of Cashel in County Tipperary.

The Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary, Ireland.

On this page I will introduce you to some crucial moments in the 1,000 year history of this historic spot.

15th century window at the Hall of the Vicar's Choral at the Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary, Ireland.

15th century window at the Hall of the Vicar's Choral, faithfully reconstructed.

A Site Of Kings

Initially, the Rock of Cashel was the main royal site for the kings of Munster. During its’ time as a royal site (compare Rathcroghan), most likely, there would have been a stone fort on top of the hill as the name ‘cashel’ means stone fort. Most likely, the site had ritual and ceremonial significance.

In early Christian times, Brian Boru was inaugurated as King of Munster at the Rock of Cashel in 978. In 1002 he was the first King of Munster to become High King of Ireland. Again, the inauguration took place at this site. Brian Boru died at the battle of Clontarf in 1014. No buildings are left from this period. Most likely, the era of the stone fort continued until this point.

The Rock of Cashel, Cathedral and round tower.

1,000 years of Ireland history are reflected in the ruins at The Rock of Cashel. See the round tower (built 1101) on the left and the Cathedral on the right

A Gift To The Church- Why?

In  1101 Brian Boru’s grandson Muircheartach Ua Briain King of Munster, gifted the Rock to the church. Why would he do that? This was a political decision. His rivals for the kingship of Munster, the McCarthy’s were gaining power and he knew they were interested in taking this strategic and symbolic spot. The McCarthy’s were unlikely to be able to do so if the Rock was in the hands of the church because the public would have turned against them. Muircheartach Ua Briain was a Bishop as well as King and had an insider understanding of the growing power of the church. He made this generous gesture towards the church In order to preserve his own power base and to gain respect from the people.

The Rock of Cashel, Cathedral arches and round tower.

A Religious Site

After 1101 the Rock became an important Christian religious site and all the buildings we see here today date from this period. The fort might have been dismantled at this stage in order to re-use the stone for the new buildings, the first one of which was a round tower dating back to 1101.

In 1152, with the approval of Rome, Ireland was to set up four archbishoprics, at Dublin, Armagh, Cashel, and Tuam. From then on, the archbishop of Cashel resided at the Rock. During this period the remainder of the buildings was to be erected, such as the Cathedral (1230-1270), followed by the tower house castle which was the archbishops’ residence, and the 15th century Hall Of The Vicar’s Choral, a place of residence for the choir.

Rock carvings in Cormac's Chapel at the Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary, Ireland.

Stone carvings inside Cormac's Chapel and traces of frescoes once painted lavishly with expensive materials are the remnants of the wealth and splendor displayed here during this golden period of Ireland history.

Cromwell And Demise

When Cromwell sent Lord Inchiquin and his men to attack Cashel in 1647, the town did not surrender as demanded.  So, when taking the town, the Parlamentary army, as they had done and were to do in other towns around the country, massacred all of the roughly 1,000 residents of Cashel who had sought refuge in the Cathedral on top of the Rock. As you might imagine, both the town and the religious site were never the same again after that. The Rock gradually declined and the cathedral was eventually replaced with a new cathedral built in the town.

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Thanks! Colm and Susanna

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