The west face

The Rock of Cashel

Historic Site

The Rock of Cashel, banded with limestone outcrops, rises 200 feet above the surrounding plain. AKA Cashel of the Kings or Patricks Rock (Irish: Carraig Phádraig), is asscociated in legend with St Patrick, but the site was originally the seat of the Kings of Munster. The site was donated to the church in 1101 by Muirchertach O Briain, King of Munster. The buildings we see today date from the 12th century, the oldest and also the tallest being the 28 metre ( 98 feet ) high round tower. The other building at Cashel are influenced by Hiberno-Romanesque or Germanic architecture.

The 12th century High Cross.

Although made of local Drumbane sandstone, the Cross of St Patrick is known as a Latin cross. Originally the cross had two stone supports for the arms, of which only one now remains. The west face pictured left, bears a crucifixion scene with Christ wearing a long robe. The east face also bears a figure, a bishop carrying a crozier, probably St Patrick standing on an animals head. The base which was thought to be used as an inauguration stone for the local kings, ( unproven) is decorated with Urnes style interlace. The cross stands at 2.28 metres high and is now located in the medieval Hall of the Vicars' Choral.

The Cathedral

The largest remaining structure is St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The Cathedral, built between 1235 and 1270, is an aisle-less building of cruciform plan with a central tower. The nave was reduced in the 15th century when a five-story castle (tower-house) was added to the west end as a residence for the archbishop. The most attractive elements are the transepts (c.1270), with triple lancet windows. On the east side of the transepts are square chapels, two on each side, all with piscinae and tomb niches. The north transept and long choir each contain late medieval tombs and grave slabs. It is possible to discern the dates of decorative elements based on the material used: the original 13th-century work is in sandstone, while later work is in limestone.


The sarcophagus


Cormacs Chapel

Along with Clonfert, Cormac's Chapel is one of the most interesting Romanesque Churches in Ireland. It was built during the twelfth century by Cormac MacCarthy, King Cormac III of Munster. The Chapel is 50 feet long and 18 feet wide. It has a north and south entrance, and at each end of the nave stands a tower of Germanic influence. Unfortunately on our visit we were not able to see many of the splendid features due to current restoration. These include the chancel and chancel arch decorated with numerous carved heads, and the finest example of the few surviving Medieval frescos in Ireland. The frescos were covered with whitewash during the Reformation (16th century) and remained hidden until the 1980s. Features we were able to see included two tympana and the beautifully carved sarcophagus (stone tomb) with Hiberno-Scandinavian art featuring interlaced beasts and serpents. The sarcophagus, which was discovered in the Cathedral and moved to Cormac’s Chapel, may be the tomb of King Cormac himself.


The north doorway is richly decorated and was most likely the main entrance to the chapel. The doorway consists of 5 concentric arches or mouldings supported by five columns in the Romanesque style as in Clonfert. Above the doorway, the tympanum is decorated with a centaur shooting at a lion (pictured left).


Situated: This site could not be easier, from Dublin head south on the N8 to Cashel, Tipperary. The Rock of Cashel totally dominates the town and cannot be missed.

Discovery Map 66: S 0744 4096. Last visit Sept 2009.

Longitude: 7° 53' 25" W

Latitude: 52° 31' 12" N

Google Map

Photos: Jim Dempsey and Deb Snelson.