Seat of the Kings of Munster and the hallowed spot where St. Patrick first plucked a shamrock to explain the mystery of the Trinity, the Rock of Cashel is Ireland's greatest group of ecclesiastical ruins. Standing in the middle of a sloped, treeless valley, the Rock's titanic grandeur and majesty creates what one ancient scribe called "a fingerpost to Heaven." Today, the great limestone mass still rises 300 feet to command a panorama over all it surveys—fittingly, the name derives from the Irish caiseal, meaning "stone fort," and this gives a good idea of its strategic importance.
For centuries, Cashel was known as the "city of the kings"—from the 5th century, the lords of Munster ruled over much of southern Ireland from here. In 1101, however, they handed Cashel over to the Christian fathers, and the rock soon became the center of the reform movement that reshaped the Irish Church. Along the way, the church fathers embarked on a centuries-long building campaign that
resulted in the magnificent group of chapels, round towers, and walls you see at Cashel today.
Built in the 15th century—though topped with a modern reconstruction of a beautifully corbeled medieval ceiling—the Hall of the Vicar's Choral was once the domain of the cathedral choristers. Located in the hall's undercroft, the museum includes the original St. Patrick's Cross.
The real showpiece of Cashel is Cormac's Chapel, completed in 1134 by Cormac McCarthy, King of Desmond and Bishop of Cashel. It is the finest example of Hiberno-Romanesque architecture. Preserved within the chapel is a splendid but broken sarcophagus, once believed to be Cormac's final resting place. At the opposite end of the chapel is the nave, where you can look for wonderful medieval paintings now showing through old plasterwork.
With thick walls that attest to its origin as a fortress, the now roofless St. Patrick's Cathedral is the largest building on the site. In the choir, look for the noted tomb of Myler McGrath. Note the tombs in the north transept, whose carvings—of the apostles, other saints, and the beasts of the Apocalypse—are remarkably detailed. The octagonal staircase turret that ascends the cathedral's central tower leads to a series of defensive passages built into the thick walls—from the top of the tower, you'll have wonderful views. At the center of the cathedral is the area known as The Crossing, a magnificently detailed arch where the four sections of the building come together.
Directly beyond the Rock's main entrance is this 7-foot-tall High Cross, carved from one large block and resting upon what is said to have been the original coronation stone of the Munster kings. The cross was erected in St. Patrick's honor to commemorate his famous visit to Cashel in AD 450. This cross is a faithfully rendered replica—the original now rests in the Rock's museum. As the oldest building on the Rock, the Round Tower rises 92 feet to command a panoramic view of the entire Vale of Tipperary. A constant lookout was posted here to warn of any advancing armies.