Monday, August 06, 2018

Out of Town: The Rock of Cashel

An hour spent in the company of an OPW tour guide on the Rock of Cashel yesterday was entertaining, informative, and a reminder of just how fortunate we are to have the OPW look after our heritage, writes Brian Byrne.

Cashel used to be an important landmark on the road journey from Dublin to Cork, but now isn't seen at all from the motorway, so it tends to get lost in our consciousness for a day out.

But it's well worth taking the diversion, and coming in from the north off Exit 7 of the M8, that formerly familiar dramatic view of the rock and its elegant ruins can still take your breath away.

On yesterday's really beautiful afternoon, the place was busy, with groups and individuals all working their way around the five buildings that 'crown' the rock, as guide Mary put it.

I have no doubt that all the guides are equally excellent, but Mary — who grew up in Cashel and played as a child in the ruins — was an absolute tonic for anyone who might have been feeling a little jaded from the sun, or over-heritaged if they have been 'doing' Ireland as incoming tourists.

Leavening the history with anecdotes that ranged from hilarious to horrific, she wound us in or around the tower house, cathedral, round tower, Cormac's chapel, and the Vicars Choral.

It's very clear today why the place was chosen by Conall Corc to be the seat of what was to become the Munster kingship — the views are spectacular, perhaps even more so now that green fields have taken the place of the primeval oak forests which covered Ireland in 370 AD.

That kingship endured through to 1101 AD, and included Brian Boru from 978. Nearly a century after his death at the Battle of Clontarf, one of his successors gave the castle and the authority to the Church. This is why the remains of a 13th-century cathedral dominate the rock today.

The tales told by Mary are best left for readers to go along and hear for themselves, but they include the mechanics of medieval toilets, the broiling of monks in their 'safe' round tower, a terrible massacre that softened up the area prior to the arrival of Cromwell, and the first known instance of 'credit card' fraud, involving the cathedral's choir and a bishop's seal.

There's also the story of Miler Magrath, 'The Scoundrel of Cashel', who lived high and long on being simultaneously the Catholic Archbishop of Down and Connor and the Protestant Archbishop of Cashel ... despite his mendacity and corruption, he survived 52 years as a bishop, dying in his 100th year.

Cashel is only an hour and a quarter from Kilcullen, and is highly recommended for a day out during the remainder of the summer holidays.

And the tarts and cream available in The Bakehouse cafe in town afterwards are a bonus ...

More pictures here

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