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September 21, 2006

The Rock of Cashell

Possibly one of Irelands most historic, and certainly one of its most picturesque places is the Rock of Cashell. This great ruined castle cathedral sits atop a huge granite upthrust and was once the home of the Kings of Munster and then of the Archbishops of Cashell. It must surely be unique in concept and in purpose. The cathedral has a long Chior (or Quire) on its Eastern arm, and two equal length transepts - but almost no nave. At least half of what would have been the nave is taken up with a massive square keep as high as the great certal tower which straddles the crossing between the main church and the transepts.

In the space between the Gatehouse or Barbican that gives entrance to the outer Bailey of the enclosure, is the stump of a very ancient "High Cross", known as St Patrick's Cross. The weathered state of the unusual stump gives testimony to its age but the entire upper part of the cross is gone. It marks the fact that St Patrick is said to have visited the site and baptised many converts here.

The Rock of Cashell seen from the North, once the fortified palace of the Kings of Munster who gave it to the Church who turned it into a Cathedral Castle. The top of the round tower can be seen against the sky and the central tower.

As a fortress the Rock has had to withstand many seiges and assaults both as a Royal Fortress in the many wars between Irelands numerous "Kings" all struggling to gain the coveted status of High King. In fact it was one of their number who eventually, in 1169, invited a Norman invasion - an invasion which led to the annexation of Ireland by Henry II of England and the rest, as they say, is history!

Entrance to the cathedral inside the enclosing walls. Seen here from the South West, the great central tower rises above the crossing.The West End of the cathedral is shortened and its place taken by the Keep - a fortified dwelling for the Archbishops.

Tucked into the South East angle of the Quire and South Transept is an even more ancient building than the Cathedral which dates, in its present form, from the 13th Century. This is Cormac's Chapel, unusual because its Chancel and Sanctuary is not centred on the nave, but is offset to the south side. On the North Eastern corner of the North Transept is an even more ancient structure - the Round Tower, a tower of the type built in the 8th and 9th Centuries as a lookout and refuge tower as the Viking raids gathered momentum. This one dates from 1101 and can be seen in the photographs with this piece as the tall 'finger' with its conical roof of stone. Cormac's Chapel is in the Romanesque style and is said to be one of the earliest and the finest stone churches in Ireland although no date is available for the building of it in any guides we found. It is almost windowless, with blind arcading decorating the exterior and the interior and the fine Norman style tympania above the doors are decorated with Celtic style carvings, hinting that this is a building that predates the invasion.

The cathedral suffered badly during the Parliamentary assault on religion during the Commonwealth period and it was sacked by a Parliamentary Army under Lord Inchiquin in 1647. However, it was partly restored and, now as a Cathedral of the Church of Ireland" continued in use until 1748 when the cummulative damage of the centuries and the rising cost of repairing and maintaining a church design to exclude rather than include a congregation, led to its abandonment. The Cathedral status being moved to the church of St John in the town. The Rock's church remained partially roofed until 1845 when the roof and part of the Keep collapsed and finally the Eastern gable fell as well. In 1869 ownership transferred to the National Monuments Board and has been conserved in its present state since then.

The Hall of the Vicar's Choral now serves as a visitor centre, shop, museum and small conema in which visitors may see the history of the place through a short video presentation and is, in itself an interesting insight into life on the Rock. Again, a very holy place with much, much more that needs to be explored.

Posted by The Gray Monk at September 21, 2006 10:27 PM

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Great photos, particularly the first... very moody and brooding.

Posted by: Gorse Fox at September 22, 2006 08:29 AM