On a high limestone hill, ancient headstones overlook pastures below the noble Rock of Cashel.
The medieval fortress towers above wide, verdant plains, dotted with grazing cattle. One of Ireland’s most spectacular archeological sites, this stone fort, or “Caiseal,” was originally a great Celtic cathedral. During the 4th century, the Rock was chosen as a base by a Welsh clan, the Eoghanachta, who conquered the land and made themselves the ruling kings. It remained one of the two power centers in Ireland for four centuries. In 1101, hoping to gain favor with the powerful bishops, Muirchertach O’Briain, king of Munster, made a gift of the Rock of Cashel, also known as St. Patrick’s Rock, to the Church. The cathedral continued as a place of worship until the 1700’s.
The day of our visit, heavy clouds drifted low over pasturelands, with occasional sunbreaks that lit up the land like a golden spotlight. The hill is bare of any natural windbreak, so the cathedral-fortress and headstones braved the chilly wind and damp air, just as we did.
But no matter. The iconic Ireland views fairly took my breath away. A collection of fields lay out across the valley like some crazy, mixed-up plaid, their colors varied from emerald to apple to yellow-green in more shades than my eyes could comprehend. Cattle, their heads bowed as if worshipping the lush grass, were mere dots in the distance.
The structure looks big from the outside. From the inside, somehow it seems even bigger.
Settled among the fields and pastures below us, the ruins of Hore Abbey, also known as St. Mary’s, lay. Formerly a Benedictine abbey, it was given to the Cistercians in 1270 by Archbishop David MacCeaarbhaill, who later entered the monastery. The archbishop imprudently bequeathed much of the village of Cashel’s lands, mills, and other property to the Cistercians once the Benedictines had been successfully “removed.”
A popular local tale is that MacCeaarbhaill evicted the former Order from the land after having a dream in which the monks plotted his death. True or not, he was in great disfavor with the townsfolk following the recommission of their assets to the abbey.
According to historical accounts, thirty-eight local brewers were levied two flagons from each brewing, which they surely saw as a continuation of the wealthy Church brazenly stealing from the poor locals. The tax may well have been a contributing factor to two of the bishop’s monks being murdered while visiting the town.
Lesson for the Day: Don’t steal somebody else’s beer. If you do, stay clear of the ‘hood.
It’s a fascinating place, so if you’re into history, architecture, or just beautiful places, make sure to put The Rock of Cashel on your “Be There” list.