The name “Cashel” derives from the Gaelic word “caiseal” meaning “fort”, which itself derives from “castellum”, Latin for “castle” or “fortress”.
Cashel was a typical Irish medieval town with the main street forming the spine and narrow lanes running off it at right angles. There was a market place to the east of the modern townhall. Narrow plots of land (burgage plots) where animals were kept and vegetables grown stretched from the houses fronting the main street back towards the town wall.
As well as being an important historical religious site, the Rock of Cashel was also a fortress.
St Patrick reputedly converted the local King, Aenghus, on the Rock in the 5th century.
Brian Ború was crowned King of Munster on the Rock in the early 11th Century.
Brian Ború supposedly fortified Cashel in 990 and Murtagh O’Brien, King of Cashel, in presence of the chiefs and clergy, made a grant in 1101 of the “Rock” with the territory around it to O’Dunan, “noble bishop and chief senior of Munster”, and dedicated it to God and St. Patrick.
The county court for Tipperary was established around 1240 and frequently sat at Cashel.
During the medieval period a number of large and wealthy religious houses were established in or near the town. In the early 13th century, the Benedictines founded a community at Cashel. In 1272 the Cistercians built Hore Abbey, the remains of which survive at the foot of the Rock of Cashel to the present day. In 1243 the Dominican Friary at Moor Lane was established and in 1250 the Franciscans erected a friary on a site that is now within the churchyard of the Church of St John the Baptist.
One merchant, Adam Stripling of Cashel, was granted letters of protection on 7 May 1279 ‘by the King’s licence to go to parts beyond the sea’ to trade. The booming town of Cashel would have provided a ready market for his and other merchant’s wares.
Despite having borough status, the town did not receive a grant of murage to build walls until 1303-7. The walls were built between 1317-1326 under Archbishop William fitzJohn. They enclosed an area of 14 hectares and were originally 1,550 metres long. Five gates controlled access to the town. Four isolated stretches of town wall survive, each 100-200 metres in length; the best preserved section being along the southern part of the medieval town.
In 1647, during the Irish Confederate Wars, the town was stormed and sacked by English Parliamentarian troops under Murrough O’Brien, 1st Earl of Inchiquin. Over 1,000 Irish Catholic soldiers and civilians, including several prominent clerics, were reputedly killed in the attack and ensuing massacre.
There are many royal as well as religious associations with the Rock. At the Synod of Cashel in 1172 Henry II of England was recognised as overlord of Ireland.