A Travel Guide
The Rock of Cashel goes by many names, including Cashel of the Kings (meaning "stone fort of kings"), or St. Patrick's Rock. According to legend, this "rock" has not always been in this spot, thanks to St. Patrick (more on that later). With a long history back to the 5th century and a castle with a grand history that dates to the 12th century, the Rock of Cashel is a popular tourist destination. It's proximity to the town and the Hore Abbey ruins makes it easy to enjoy an entire day here.
At a cost of 8€ (seniors save 6€ and children were 4€) you can either walk freely through the ruins or pick up a guided tour when one begins. There is a small museum at the end featuring the real Saint Padraig's Cross (St. Patrick), of which it is said, if you wrap your arms around it, you'll never have a toothache again. Unfortunately it is beyond reach, but you can see if the replica outside will suffice (see above and below). The real cross was taken indoors because sandstone is not one to weather well. Cormac's Chapel, which is also on-site costs and extra 3€ to visit.
Getting to Rock of Cashel
I drove some wild skinny roads from Kells Priory near Kilkenny down to the town of Cashel. This town is big enough you could actually use it as a great jumping off point for seeing area castles. Cork, Kilkenny, and Limerick are all towns that are close. And it's not a long way to Tipperary either! Sorry, had to be done.
Finding parking might be your first challenge. On R505 below the castle and heading towards town, there is a little spot on the right where you might be able to park. There is a bit of street parking there, but I didn't want to chance it. Instead I drove up to the first roundabout in town, took a left and paid for metered parking. Just look for the parking box, pay 1€ per hour and put the ticket on your dashboard. I would put in at least 2€ or 3€ if you want to be more leisurely or walk out to Hore Abbey and around this interesting little town of Cashel. The walk back up R505 mostly has sidewalks, so you should be safe.
Rock of Cashel Experience
I visited just before Easter weekend and there were already a decent amount of tourists there. You walk into a ticket office/museum area and pay your entrance fee. Then you can ask when the next guided tour is or just walk around. I chose to walk a little until my tour started and then ended up leaving the tour and exploring on my own, just because I was a little short on time. The castle is imposing as you walk in. It is a ruin, so you won't find decorated rooms, but you will see the most amazing Gothic architecture. It is a fantastic place to use your imagination.
The vaulted ceilings and pointed arches are key elements in Gothic architecture, a style trend that lasted 400 years from the 12th century to the 16th.
As you walk around the castle grounds, you'll see the power of having such a great hilltop vantage point. Below you can see for miles, even with some cloud cover. And straight ahead you see Hore Abbey, the 13th century Cistercian monastery that is just a short walk from the Rock. Meanwhile you can walk through the gravestones and take in the grand nature of this castle.
The History of Rock of Cashel and the Cashel of the Kings
When dealing with pre-medieval history, you can sometimes run into a lot of wild stories. The Rock of Cashel has it's own. It is said the rock was part of the "devil's bit," an area of the nearby Slieve Bloom Mountains where there is an apparent bite mark in the mountain. The legend goes that the devil, angered at being banished from a cave by St. Patrick, took a bite out of the mountain, breaking his tooth, and spitting the rock to it's current location as The Rock of Cashel.
The Rock of Cashel served as the seat of the Kingdom of Munster, which covered all the territory down to the southwest corner of Ireland. It was also the spot where St. Patrick is said to have converted King Aengus of Munster to Christianity here in 432 A.D. In 990 A.D. it was also the de-facto seat of power for the first united Ireland under High King Brian Boru. The rein of the Kings of Munster came to an end during the English Norman conquest of Ireland in the 12th century. The castle dates to this time period, with the round tower being the oldest surviving feature. The chapel is in Romanesque style and dates the the 13th century.
St. Patrick's Faux Pas
Even saints can have a bad day. As the legend goes, during the conversion of King Aengus, St. Patrick was so in the zone during the event that he kept stabbing his staff exuberantly into the ground. However, it wasn't really the ground he was stabbing. It was King Aengus' foot! Figuring this was part of the conversion process, poor King Aengus took the pain and made it through the ceremony without uttering a word. Now, doesn't that make you feel better about occasionally driving on the wrong side of the road by mistake?
Planning Your Day
Make sure to add in a little time to walk down to Hore Abbey. You can see this beautiful church ruin from high up on the Rock of Cashel. There is street parking near it, but it might be better to hike over to it after visiting the Rock. Finish your day by walking back to your car in Cashel and grabbing dinner in one of the local restaurants.