The town of Cashel owes its existence to a giant limestone outcrop of massive historical and social importance. Known as the Rock of Cashel, it was the seat of the Kings of Munster from the 5th century until it was given to the church in 1101. Following the handover it became an important centre of learning and a place of royal patronage. The presence of a round tower and the beautifully designed Cormac’s Chapel complete with frescos are testament to this. After the area was conquered by the Anglo-Normans a gothic cathedral and tower house were constructed. Today, the Rock has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Ireland. Its international importance was recently recognised by its nomination to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, Cashel is not just the Rock. The town itself is a great place to explore. Some of the treasures within its medieval walls are its attractive Georgian buildings, the 13th century abbey, and quirky folk village. One of the best things to do is to take high tea in the drawing room of the former 18th century Bishop’s Palace, now the Cashel Palace Hotel.
A brief history of Cashel
Cashel, meaning ‘stone fort’, is historically documented as the principal stronghold of the Kings of Munster since 370AD. This settlement was focused on the Rock. It was handed over to the church by Muircheartach O’Brien in 1101, and became a significant ecclesiastical centre. The dynamics altered with the Anglo-Norman invasion. An existing settlement, which evidence suggests was located in the area of Ladyswell Street, was probably considerably expanded by the invaders. In 1218, the Rock was removed from the archbishop’s control by the Justiciar of Ireland. However, that was soon reversed in 1228 when Henry III conferred Cashel’s first Charter, in which he granted ‘that vill in frankalmoign to the Archbishop and his successors’ with the right to hold an ‘annual fair at Cashel for eight days, namely, on the vigil and feast of the Holy Trinity and six following days’. Frankalmoign is a tenure by which a religious corporation holds lands given to them and their successors forever, usually on condition of praying for the soul of the donor and his heirs. For a one-off payment of 300 marks to the Crown, the archbishop of Cashel gained almost exclusive control of the town and its revenues. Rent-paying burgesses in Cashel were entitled to rights and privileges according to their status, and many worked lands in the vicinity granted to them by the archbishops. One of the most important developments after the clergy took back control of the town was the arrival between 1243 and 1269 of Dominicans, Franciscans and Cistercians.
Cashel is a planned Norman town, whose principal features, such as grid-like street layout, with off-set lanes, and a market place, are mirrored in all such Anglo-Norman towns throughout Ireland. Long narrow plots extend from the street front, and the continuity of many of these from probably the high medieval period, is still evident in Cashel. It has been suggested that the new town had reached the extent delimited by the town wall before c.1265. Despite its early elevation to borough status (1216-23) Cashel did not receive a murage grant until 1303-7. The town wall was built between 1319-24. In 1316, Edward Bruce halted his army and held a parliament at Cashel. Evidence suggests that the town walls were obsolete by the middle of the 17th century, as they were probably of little value after the invention of gun powder. In 1647, the ecclesiastic centre on the rock was burnt by Murrough O’Brien, Earl of Inchiquin, as the garrison had fled rather than defend the town.
For further information on the town’s history contact:
Joanne Hughes, The Butler Trail
If you want to read more about Cashel, click on the PDF below: