JN 7 (R69) TOWARDS CASHEL
Visible from afar and rising up from the fertile plain of the Golden Vale, the Rock of Cashel is a movie set designer’s dream: a bristling vision of a medieval round tower, chapel, cathedral and castle within a wall high on a grassy outcrop. It seems impregnable – the Irish caiseal translates as “stone fort”. But, as in all good thrillers, there are clues to unravel the twists and turns of its plot. And this is for real. Leaving Cashel’s market town behind, you climb uphill imagining yourself as friend or foe? For over 1,000 years the Rock was a symbol of royal and religious power; the seat of Eóganacht Kings of Munster until rivalries saw Brian Boru, future High King of Ireland, take over in the 10th century. It was later granted to the Church and used even after 17th century sacking by Cromwellian troops.
The Rock is often called St Patrick’s Rock and the saint reputedly converted King Aenghus to Christianity on this spot in the 5th century. And so you pick up the plot lines, entering via the 15thcentury Hall of the Vicars Choral. Once home to choristers who sang in the cathedral, today it’s your gateway to an introductory film and displays in the undercroft featuring the 12th-century St Patrick’s Cross. Exploring solo or listening to the lively narrations of a guide, you move on to Cormac’s Chapel, an outstanding 12th-century Romanesque creation taking its name from its kingly builder. In the Gothic cathedral a wall tomb prompts tales of a notorious archbishop named Miler Magrath.
You can no longer climb the 28m (92ft) Round Tower, dating from the early 12th century, but views over the lush countryside are nevertheless superb.