Looking sharp in a matching hand-loomed, hurley tweed waistcoat (vest) and jacket, our self-proclaimed Liam Neeson-lookalike leads the intrepid “band of merry media” — 18 travel writers and photographers invited by Insight Vacations (Insight) to sample a portion of its Treasures of Ireland journey — up the steep path to one the Emerald Isle’s most frequented heritage sites: The Rock of Cashel.
In fine Irish fashion, David, one of the curators at the small museum, greets us with another 100-thousand welcomes — céad mile fáilte — then quickly takes us back to the fifth century, the starting point of his primer about the site.
“It was here on this spot,” David states while fronting a stone replica of the Cross of St. Patrick, “that Ireland’s patron saint converted the pagan King of Munster to Christianity back in 450 AD.” He adds, “For this reason, the Rock of Cashel, meaning castle, is also referred to as the Rock of Kings and St. Patrick’s Rock.”
Sitting atop an outcrop of limestone, the Rock of Cashel is an impressive collection of medieval buildings that overlooks part of the Golden Vale, Ireland’s prized dairy farming area that stretches across three counties: Cork, Limerick and, from our vantage point, the undulating pastures of Tipperary.
As David points out, these ruins include a 12th-century round tower, a high cross, a Romanesque chapel, a 15th century castle, the Hall of Vicars — where laymen and sometimes minor canons, appointed to assist in chanting the various religious services, were housed — and a 13th-century Gothic cathedral named in honor of St. Patrick.
Before letting us meander about on our own, David provides us with one grim footnote about this historic site.
“Over the centuries, the cathedral and castle survived quite a few attacks,” he begins, “but, in 1647, during the Irish Confederate Wars, Oliver Cromwell’s English Parliamentary forces attacked the Rock of Cashel and much of the complex was destroyed.” David concludes his open-air lecture by adding, “Nearly 1,000 Irish men, women and children were massacred inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the majority of the priceless religious artifacts were stolen.’
With a bit more daylight to burn before we depart this solemn place, I remove the lens cap and frame away.
Joining Big Mike for the walk back down the lane — part of the Tipperary Heritage Way — towards the parking lot and the awaiting Insight motor coach, I admire his traditional Irish threads up close and ask, “Do you think I could score some tweed in a 36-short?”
Looking down at me sympathetically from his lofty 6’2″ frame, Big Mike smiles and replies, “Ah Tom, to be sure. To be sure.”
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©The Palladian Traveler