For more than a millennium, the Rock of Cashel, a formidable stronghold rising high above the surrounding plain, has stood sentinel over Tipperary. Legend—and a carved cross—imply an association between St. Patrick and the Rock’s earliest rulers, the kings of Munster, but the ancient fortress wasn’t formally presented to the church until 1101. Officially dissociated from its secular roots, the stronghold proved equally majestic as a center of ecclesiastical power, flourishing as a spiritual high ground until the Cromwellian army laid siege to it in 1647. Still, the architecture from that period largely survives and continues to hold sway over the tourists who besiege the Rock each year. The jewel of the stronghold is undeniably Cormac’s Chapel, considered one of the best examples of 12th-century Romanesque architecture in Ireland. Yet it’s the 90-foot round tower, built in the early 12th century without the use of mortar, that perfectly exemplifies the Rock of Cashel’s dual role as a religious center and medieval fortress.

Rock of Cashel

For more than a millennium, the Rock of Cashel, a formidable stronghold rising high above the surrounding plain, has stood sentinel over Tipperary. Legend—and a carved cross—imply an association between St. Patrick and the Rock’s earliest rulers, the kings of Munster, but the ancient fortress wasn’t formally presented to the church until 1101. Officially dissociated from its secular roots, the stronghold proved equally majestic as a center of ecclesiastical power, flourishing as a spiritual high ground until the Cromwellian army laid siege to it in 1647. Still, the architecture from that period largely survives and continues to hold sway over the tourists who besiege the Rock each year. The jewel of the stronghold is undeniably Cormac’s Chapel, considered one of the best examples of 12th-century Romanesque architecture in Ireland. Yet it’s the 90-foot round tower, built in the early 12th century without the use of mortar, that perfectly exemplifies the Rock of Cashel’s dual role as a religious center and medieval fortress.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DESIGN PICS INC/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

Top 10: Historic Sites in Ireland and Northern Ireland

More than 5,000 years of history are revealed through colossal passage tombs, the beehive huts of early monasteries, and more iconic landmarks. Here are Irish places of curiosity, pilgrimage, and inspiration.

Read This Next

Why kids need their own COVID-19 vaccine trials

A black-footed ferret has been cloned, a first for a U.S. endangered species

3-ton parts of Stonehenge may have been carried from earlier monuments

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet