Religious History at the Rock of Cashel and Hore Abbey

Cathedral at Rock of Cashel

Following a great evening in Kilkenny I traveled to the Rock of Cashel also known as St. Patrick’s Rock in Tipperary County.  The Rock of Cashel was the traditional seat of the Kings of Munster until 1101 when the site was transferred to the Catholic Church in Ireland. The majority of the ruins remaining on the site are from the 12th and 13th centuries during the Church’s ownership of the site.

I participated in a guided tour as part of my visit the Rock of Cashel.  The tour guide was very knowledgeable about the site and did a good job of contextualizing the numerous structures with the political and social movements of the period.  She also did a good job of interjecting humor into the tour through Irish folk stories and jokes.

Cormac’s Chapel is one of the larger ruins on the site and was completed in 1134.  The Chapel was undergoing exterior preservation work during the time of my visit as the sandstone which makes up the majority of the building has been susceptible to water damage.  Despite this exterior work visitors are still able to enter the chapel and see the vaulted ceiling and the small pieces of Irish frescoes which survive on the ceiling.  The interior of the Chapel has a musty damp smell which makes sense given the water damage of the stone.

View of Hore Abbey from Rock of Cashel

The majority of the other buildings on the site are made from limestone, as the Rock of Cashel is located on a huge outcropping of limestone. These buildings mainly date from the 12th and 13th century and include a round tower, a cathedral, castle, and a newer Hall of the Vicars Choral that was built in the 15th century.

After the guided tour and exploring the site I visited the ruins of  Hore Abbey which is located within walking distance of the Rock of Cashel.  Like the Rock, the Abbey is maintained by the Office of Public Works.  However, the Abbey is not staffed and is located in the middle of a farmers field.   The Abbey dates from the 1200s and I found it interesting that the Rock of Cashel gains so much attention when the Abbey sits looking somewhat abandoned. Granted, the Rock of Cashel does look more imposing but the character and history behind the Abbey is just as interesting.

Photographs by Andrew Mackay

Natural Landscape and Monastic Ruins in Glendalough

On the way to Kinsale, in Cork County I stopped at the Glendalough Monastic Settlement in Wicklow County.  The Glendalough monastic site is located in the Wicklow Mountains National Park.  I imagine the drive towards Glendalough from Dublin would be beautiful on a clear day as it takes you through the mountains.  It was foggy during my drive so the views were mostly of mist and a few sheep.

It was pouring rain during my visit to Glendalough but there were still a number of visitors exploring the 6th century Christian monastic site. There is a small visitors center located at the site with an attached exhibition space.  I didn’t go into the museum space during my visit but I did go into the center to get maps of the site which outlined the monastic ruins as well as the walking trails on the site.  Having a description of the monastic ruins was helpful as there is very little signage near the ruins themselves. 

There are a number of monastic ruins on the site including: an arched gateway, a round tower, cathedral, church, and smaller out buildings.  The round tower is the most visible from a distance  and is still in surprisingly good shaping considering portions of the other buildings have collapsed.  The tower is around 30 meters high and served as a landmark, a storehouse, and a safe space during times of pillaging.  The monastic ruins are surrounded by graves and memorials to the brethren who occupied the site.

After exploring the monastic ruins I walked towards the upper lake on one of the walking paths.   The walk was nice though probably would have been more enjoyable in better weather.  The walk did provide a nice glimpse at some of the natural landscape encompassed by the National Park and extensive efforts that have gone into creating trails, walking paths, and nature walks.