by Garry Bryant / Garaidh Ó Briain
Around 370 A.D., King Corc built a stone fort on what had been known as the "Fairy Ridge" and established his capital there. The Irish name for the place is "Caiseal," meaning "stone fort." Some years later around 448 A.D., St. Patrick came to Cashel and baptized Munster's king Aengus MacMutfraich, grandson of King Corc. Tradition has it that Patrick accidentally pierced the king's foot with his staff during the ceremony. The King, thinking this was part of the ceremony, remained silent and stood like a granite pillar. King Aengus provided the financial assistance for many of the churches St. Patrick founded over the seven years he remained in Munster. [http://www.sacred-destinations.com/ireland/rock-of-cashel] [http://roundtowers.org/cashel/index.htm]
There is a legend on how the rock at Cashel came to be. 30 kilometers north of the town of Cashel is the Devil's Bit, a mountain range, where St. Patrick banished Satan from a cave which resulted in the rock landing at Cashel. The rock ridge is also called Carraig Phádraig "Rock of Patrick." [http://thedockyards.com/the-history-of-the-rock-of-cashel/]
The Rock of Cashel was originally the residence of the kings of Munster, and site of the royal inauguration of the king's of Munster upon a large stone. Excavations have revealed some evidence of burials and church buildings from the 9th or 10th century, but it was in the early 12th century that the Rock began to be developed into a major Christian center. [http://www.sacred-destinations.com/ireland/rock-of-cashel] It is consider one of the centers for Irish culture along with Armagh and Tara.
Brian Boru was crowned king of Munster at "The Rock" in 977 A.D.. In 1101 A.D., Muirchertach O Briain, king of Munster, gave the Rock of Cashel to the church, ostensibly to keep it from ever falling back into the hands of his opposition, the Eóghanachts (McCarthys). [http://roundtowers.org/cashel/index.htm]
The earliest and most lofty of the Cashel edifices is the round tower next to the cathedral's north transept. Built probably before 1110 A.D.. It originally faced the west end of the 12th-century cathedral. Rising 28 m (90 feet) high it is a well-preserved example with six floors, and built without mortar. The only entrance to the tower is one door that is twelve feet high. Many round towers were built in Ireland as a place of refuge from the Vikings. The entrance was reached by a ladder which could be pulled up in the event of attack. Only the roof has been rebuilt, in the 19th century. [http://www.sacred-destinations.com/ireland/rock-of-cashel]
At this time in Ireland there was only one archbishop and he was located in the north-east at Armagh. A decade later in 1111 A.D., a second seat of an archbishop.
The next building after the Round Tower is "Cormac's Chapel," a magnificent little Romanesque church that still survives today, was begun in 1127 A.D., and consecrated in 1134 A.D., probably for Benedictine monks. The chapel was commissioned by South Munster King Cormac III Mac Cárthaigh It is a very sophisticated structure, unlike most Irish Romanesque churches which are very simple in plan with limited decoration [http://www.sacred-destinations.com/ireland/rock-of-cashel]. The twin towers at either side of the nave and chancel which were decorated by carpenters sent by the Abbot of Regensburg in Germany, with who the kings of Munster were patrons. [http://www.britainirelandcastles.com/Ireland/County-Tipperary/Rock-of-Cashel.html]
The exterior of Cormac's Chapel is beautifully decorated with typical Romanesque details such as repeating blind arches and carved corbels. The south portal has two zigzag arches and a tympanum with a relief of an animal. The north portal has a gabled porch, indicating it was the main entrance before the cathedral was built up against the north side of the chapel. [http://www.sacred-destinations.com/ireland/rock-of-cashel]
The chapel's interior contains the oldest and most important Roman-esque wall paintings in Ireland. The oldest, dating from about 1134, consist mainly of masonry patterns and can be made out in places on the lower walls. The remaining paintings date from c.1160-70 and are visible on the upper walls and vault. These depict narrative scenes such as the Nativity, and their sophistication suggests the artists were from England or Normandy. The paintings were covered by whitewash at the Reformation (16th century) and remained hidden until the 1980s. [http://www.sacred-destinations.com/ireland/rock-of-cashel]
"Da Vinci's Last Supper was in a similar state and was restored after nearly 500 years of neglect. It's not fanciful to think the same could be done here in Cormac's Chapel, " says Philip Ryan, an artist who lives in Tipperary. [http://www.ireland.com/en-us/what-is-available/christian-heritage/destinations/republic-of-ireland/tipperary/articles/rock-of-cashel-masterpiece/]
At the west end of the chapel is a beautifully-carved sarcophagus that may be the tomb of King Cormac himself, or maybe his brother and predecessor, Tadhg (d.1124). Its decoration is in the Hiberno-Scandinavia Urnes style of the early 12th century, featuring interlaced beasts and serpents. The sarcophagus probably originally stood in the 12th-century cathedral, which no longer survives. The tomb was discovered in the north transept of the present cathedral in the 19th century. [http://www.sacred-destinations.com/ireland/rock-of-cashel]
The most attractive elements are the transepts (c.1270), with triple lancet windows. On the east side of the transepts are square chapels, two on each side, all with piscinae and three with tomb niches. The north transept contains late medieval tombs and grave slabs found at the site. [http://www.sacred-destinations.com/ireland/rock-of-cashel]
The long choir is elevated at the east end and contains grave slabs dating mostly from the 16th century. The south wall of the choir contains a piscina, sedilia, and wall tomb of the late 16th-century archbishop Miler McGrath, an Episcopalian Bishop appointed by Queen Elizabeth I, and he presided over Cashel Cathedral for fifty years . [http://www.sacred-destinations.com/ireland/rock-of-cashel] Limerick's bishop, Desmond O'Hurley wasn't as lucky. Appointed by Pope Gregory XIII, for a few years he went ministering the people in secret until exposed and hanged in 1583 for refusing to take the 'Oath of Supremacy to the Church of England.' [James Conroy, Irish Cultural Society of the Garden City Area.]
Throughout the structure, it is possible to discern the dates of the decorative elements based on the material used: the original 13th-century work is in sandstone, while later work is in limestone.
After the area was conquered by the Anglo-Normans a gothic cathedral and tower house were constructed. [http://irishwalledtownsnetwork.ie/page/cashel/cashel-info]
The Hall of Vicars Choral is the entry point to the ecclesiastical enclosure atop the Rock of Cashel. The Hall houses the museum where the original Cross of St. Patrick can be found. The cross is highly eroded, but the form of a bishop - generally recognized as St. Patrick - is depicted on the eastern face, while a slightly clearer depiction of the crucifixion is carved into the western face. The cross sits on a granite pedestal thought to have originally been the coronation stone of the kings of Munster. The interlace on this base is similar to that of the sarcophagus in Cormac's Chapel. [http://roundtowers.org/cashel/index.htm]
In 1647, a time during the Cromwellian wars, the garrison stationed at Cashel abandoned their post and fled for their safety rather than defend the town and its people. Folks of the surrounding area sought refuge at the Rock of Cashel. Upon arrival of Cromwellian troops, under command of Irishman Murrough O'Brien, 1st Earl of Inchiquin, who demanded the townspeople pay
£3,000. His demands were not met, the people assembled themselves into the church thinking and hoping they would be sparred, but Inchiquin ordered them barricade inside and stack turf around the church and lighted it. Nearly 1,000 town people died. Following the killing the site was plundered for its religious artifacts and even the carriage belonging to the Bishop was stolen. Those items deemed worthless such as statues were smashed or defaced and then the whole town was set alight. It wasn’t until 1749 that the Bishop of Cashel had the remains of the cathedral’s roof removed. When traveling around Ireland one will see many church ruins made so under Cromwell's orders. [http://irishwalledtownsnetwork.ie/page/cashel/cashel-info] [http://www.britainirelandcastles.com/Ireland/County-Tipperary/Rock-of-Cashel.html] [http://www.visitireland.com/aboutireland/olivercromwell.asp]
Near the base of the hill in the town of Cashel is a ruined Dominican friary, which was founded by the archbishop in 1243, renovated after a fire in 1480, and dissolved in 1540. The monastic buildings have not survived but the church walls are mostly intact. Dating from the mid-13th century, the church is notable for nine lancet windows on the south wall of the choir, which are thought to be the earliest examples of a design seen at other Dominican foundations in the area (namely Athenry, Sligo, Ardfert and Ferns). The windows in the east wall, south transept and west gable date from the mid-15th century. The transept, added c.1270, is one of the earliest examples of the "preaching transepts" that became a common feature in medieval Dominican churches. [http://www.sacred-destinations.com/ireland/rock-of-cashel]
My name is Garry Eugene Bryant, or in Irish, Garaidh Eóghan Ó Briain. My O'Bryan family emigrated from Ireland to Canada around 1830. They were devout Catholics and my 2nd great-grandfather, William, was informed by his parents that he was to become a priest like his two older bro-thers. He ran away changed his name by dropping the O' and adding a 't,' and ended up at Black Hawk, Col-orado about 1861. But this story was family tradition, no paper doc-ument to that gives the name change. To the rescue came Family Tree DNA and the O'Brien Surname Project which confirmed that I was not only of the Dál gCais Tribe with the R-L226 & FGC5659 snp marker's, but a distant cousin to Sir Conor M. E. O'Brien, Chief of the O'Brien Clan. So I'm not an English Bryant, but an Irish O'Brien! I have three children, all grown and married, and two grandchildren. I'm a retired photojournalist, am passionate about family history and heraldry.