A symbol of royal and priestly power for over 1,000 years, this is one of Ireland’s most spectacular archeological sites. From the 5th century, it was the seat of the kings of Munster, whose kingdom extended over much of southern Ireland. In 1101, they handed Cashel over to the Church, and it flourished as a religious center until a siege by English troops in 1647 culminated in the massacre of its 3,000 occupants. The cathedral was finally abandoned in the late 18th century. A good proportion of the medieval complex is still standing, and Cormac’s Chapel is one of Ireland’s most outstanding examples of Romanesque architecture (search “Romanesque Style” article).
The 15th-century, two story Hall of Vicars Choral was once the residential quarters of the cathedral choristers and today displays copies of medieval artifacts and furnishings. Its lower level houses the Cashel Museum, which exhibits rare silverware, stone carvings and St. Patrick’s Cross, a 12th-century crutched cross with a crucifixion scene on one side and animals on the other. The cross stands on a supporting coronation stone dating from the 4th century. Tradition held that the kings of Cashel were crowned at the base of the cross.
The king of Munster, Cormac MacCarthy, donated this chapel to the Church in 1134, because it had helped to protect the Rock of Cashel from being invaded by the Eoghanachta clan. Romanesque style, the chapel was constructed in sandstone with a stone roof and two towers on either side of the nave and chancel. The interior is decorated with various motifs, some showing dragons and human heads. At the west end of the chapel is a stone sarcophagus embellished with serpent carvings. This is thought to have once contained the body of Cormac MacCarthy. The chancel is decorated with the only surviving Romanesque frescoes in Ireland, which include a depiction of the baptism of Christ.
LIFE OF ST. PATRICK
Born in Wales in 385, St Patrick lived his early life as a pagan. At the age of 16, he was captured and sold as a slave to work in Ireland. During his captivity, he converted to Christianity and dedicated his life to God. He escaped and traveled to France, where he entered St. martin’s monastery to study the scriptures, under the guidance of St. Germain of Auxerre. He was appointed Bishop to Ireland in 432 and went on to found some 300 churches and baptize more than 120,000 people, including King Aenghus, when he visited Cashel in 450. Today, the life of St. Patrick , Ireland’s patron saint, is celebrated on March 17 all over the world with special religious services and the wearing of shamrocks – the three-tipped clover leaf that is the national emblem of Ireland.
Superb Romanesque carving adorns this chapel – the jewel of Cashel. The tympanum over the north door shows a centaur in a helmet aiming his bow and arrow at a lion.
Hall of the Vicars Choral
The Vicars Choral, a group of men appointed to sing during services, were housed in this building. The ceiling, a modern reconstruction based on medieval designs, features several decorative corbels.
Stone carvings and religious artifacts are displayed in this museum in the hall’s lower level, or undercroft.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
The roofless Gothic cathedral has thick walls riddled with hidden passages; in the north transept these are seen emerging at the base of the windows.
The 17th-century tomb of Miler Magrath – who caused a scandal by being both a Protestant and a Catholic archbishop at the same time – is located here.
There are three 16th-centruy tombs here, decorated with remarkably fresh and intricate carvings. This one, against the north wall, features a vine-leaf design and strange stylized beasts.
The Rock’s oldest surviving building, this 92-ft (28m) free-standing bell tower enabled the inhabitants to scour the surrounding plain for potential attackers.
This ornate memorial, erected in 1870 by a local landowning family, suffered damage during the storm in 1976.
ST. PATRICK AND KING AENGHUS
During the baptism ceremony of King Aenghus, St. Patrick accidentally stabbed him in the foot with his crozier and the king, thinking it was part of the initiation, bore the pain without complaint.
450: St. Patrick visits Cashel and converts King Aenghus to Christianity.
1101: Cashel is handed to the Church by King Muircheatach O’Brien.
1127-1134: King Cormac MacCarthy builds Cormac’s Chapel as a gift to the Church.
1230-1270: The large, aisleless, cruciform St. Patrick’s Cathedral is built.
1647: Cashel is invaded and besieged by an English army under Lord Inchiquin.
1975: The Hall of the Vicars Choral undergoes restoration work.