Rock of Cashel
[Thursday - 11/14/02] The Rock of Cashel is one of the most spectacular archeological sites in Ireland. It sits on the outskirts of Cashel on a large mound of limestone bristling with ancient fortifications. Mighty stone walls encircle a complete round tower, a roofless abbey, a 12th century Romanesque chapel, and numerous other buildings and high crosses. The Rock of Cashel is composed of four structures which are the Hall of the Vicar's Choral, the cathedral, the round tower, and Cormac's Chapel. We could see Hore Abbey about a kilometer north of the base of the rock.
The word Cashel is an anglicized version of the Irish word Caiseal. The translations means 'fortress' which is exactly what it was used for.
In the 4th century, the Rock of Cashel was chosen as a base of power by the Eoghanachta clan from Wales. They eventually conquered much of the Munster region and became kings of the region. The clan's links to the church started early; St. Patrick converted their leader in the 5th century in a ceremony in which the saint accidentally stabbed the king in the foot with his crozier (a large walking staff). The king, thinking this was a painful initiation rite, bore the pain. Considering the actions taken by St. Patrick on other occasions against non-believers, possibly he was afraid to react.
The clan lost possession of the Rock in the 10th century to the O'Brien tribe under the leadership of Brian Boru. In the first year of the 12th century, King Muircheartach O'Brien gave the Rock to the church. This move prevented the Eoghanachta clan from retaking the Rock. So the the Eoghanachta clan, by now the McCarthys, moved to Cork. As a sign of goodwill, Cormac McCarthy built Cormac's Chapel in 1169 before leaving.
In 1647, the Rock fell to a Cromwellian army under Lord Inchiquin which sacked and burned its way to the top. Early in the 18th century the Protestant church took it for 20 years, and this was the last time the Rock was officially used as a place of worship.
The entrance to the Rock is through a 15th century house called the Hall of the Vicar's Choral. The exhibits downstairs include some rare silverware and St. Patrick's Cross, a 12th century crutched cross with a crucifixion scene on one side and animals on the other. Tradition held that the kings of Cashel and Munster, including Brian Boru, were inaugurated at the base of the cross.
The 13th century Gothic structure overshadows the other ruins. Soaring above the center of the cathedral is a huge, square tower with a turret on one corner. Scattered throughout, are panels from the 16th century alter tombs and coats of arms from the Butlers. Located at the corner of the cathedral, the Round Tower is a sandstone tower that is about 28 meters tall dating from the 11th or 12th century.
Built in 1127, Cormac's Chapel is a small, solid, stone roofed chapel of cruciform shape. Inside the main door to the left is a stone sarcophagus, dating from 1125 - 1150, said to house the body of King Cormac. Snakes are carved in the stone in a figure "8" on its side to represent infinity or eternity. Carved around the ceiling are stone heads. The builders carved a likeness of their head and incorporated them into the building to signify their involvement in the building of the chapel. Underneath the whitewash is beautiful and brightly painted fresco.
Last modified on Wednesday, November 26, 2008|
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