Cashel Round Tower
At a Glance
County Tipperary
OS Map 66
OS Coordinate S 070 410
Condition Complete
Height 28m
Doorway Type Arched
Window Type 3 lintelled, 4 angle-headed
Number of Windows 7
Ground to Doorway 3.25m
Distinguishing Features Cathedral attached
Traditional Association St. Patrick
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Cashel Round Tower Co. Tipperary

Cashel Round Tower
County Tipperary
O.S. Map 66

Directions: There are several main routes into Cashel (N8 runs N/S right through town and N74 runs NE into it). The Rock of Cashel sits high atop a huge limestone outcropping, towering over the town, so it's hard to miss. There is a spectacular long-distance view of the complex of ruins on the drive down N8 from the north. Because of it's prominent position, it SHOULD be easy to find, but the streets are narrow and windy and the signposts sometimes difficult to see. There is a large carpark at the foot of the Rock. It charges a nominal fee, but within easy walking distance to most everything worth seeing in Cashel, and it's very close to the public restroom and several reasonably priced tearooms with good food. Entry onto the grounds of the Rock of Cashel was 4.40 Euro in 2004. 9 am to at least 4:30 pm daily, year-round. It gets very crowded in the summer months. Heritage Cards are accepted here.

Dimensions:: Because the tower, the earliest of all the ecclaisiastical buildings on the site now adjoins the great cathedral (13th century), it is not currently possible to measure the circumference at the base. Based on the dimensions of the area seen, it would appear that the base is close to 17 meters in circumference, giving it an external diameter of approx. 5.3 meters. The tower tapers to an external diameter of 4 meters just below its cap. Excavations done in 1841 found the tower built directly on the solid rock outcropping. Stonework lent stability to the foundations and it appears to have been built, as many other round towers were, on the site of an earlier burial ground. There is no visible offset, although the excavation describes the doorway as being 12 ft. above the external plinth. Using these measurements, the height of the tower would be just over 28 meters.

History: : The Rock of Cashel is an ancient royal site of the kings of Munster. It is said that in 370, King Corc built a castle on what had been known as the "Fairy Ridge" and established his capital there. St. Patrick came to Cashel somewhere around 448 and baptized King Aengus. 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 stoic. King Aengus provided the financial assistance for many of the churches St. Patrick founded over the seven years he remained in Munster. In 1101, the Rock was gifted to the religious of Ireland by Muircheartach O' Briiain, ostensibly to keep it from ever falling back into the hands of his opposition, the McCarthys.

Cormac's Chapel, with it's two square towers was built to the south of the round tower in 1134. In the 13th century, the imposing cathedral was built between these two important structures. The architecture was carefully designed not to interfere with either the chapel or the tower and still maintain a cruciform shape. At this time, the cathedral was linked to the round tower via a new doorway in the north transept triforium. Throughout history, the Rock has seen some violent times, and yet the tower has stood through it all. The cathedral was burnt by Gerald Mor in 1494, the Great Earl of Kildare. When required to account for his actions before the English King (Henry VII), he reportedly said that he wouldn't have done it, except that he was certain that his sworn enemy, Archbishop David Creaghe, was inside. In 1647, Lord Inchiquin, with Cromwellian forces attacked the town, demanding a sum of 3,000 pounds. When these demands weren't met, his forces systematically murdered over 3,000 men women and children - hundreds of whom had fled to the great cathedral on the rock. The brutality was unimaginable. The round tower was structurally intact, but battered by artillery fire and its cap dilapidated when the Office of Public Works began a major overhaul in 1874 - repointing the battered masonry and replacing the falling cap. It is now one of the finest preserved towers in the country, though the enormous cathedral steals much of its prominence.

Doorway: The original doorway faces SE (looking toward Cormac's Chapel), almost 4 meters above ground level. The arch is composed of seven stones with five stones in the west jamb and six in the east. A simple raised molding runs along both jambs and arch, except for the two bottom stones in the west jamb and the sill of the doorway. These are most likely replacements from the 19th century OPW restoration work. The second doorway from the triforium passage in the north transept of the cathedral is on the west side of the round tower and was inaccessible at the time of our 2003 visit.

Windows: There are three square-headed, lintelled windows in the body of the tower and four angle-headed windows in the bell-storey, off the cardinal compass points in the NE, NW, SE and SW. Two of these angle-headed windows are formed with a single stone, unlike the more common configuration of two stones set to either side forming a 90 degree angle.

Other Items of Interest: : 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. This sandstone chapel, built in the 12th century, is highly decorated in the Romanesque style. The enormous cathedral dominates the top of the Rock. In the side chapels of the north transept are some detailed altar carvings and some tomb carvings built into the walls. The cathedral also houses some ornate wall tombs in addition to the many gravestones inside the ruin. At the west end of the cathedral lie the four walls of a 15th castle. They are all that remain of this building. In the churchyard, northeast of the cathedral and near the enclosure wall is the O' Scully monument. The monument tomb was constructed in 1867 and the cross erected three years later. Originally 24.5 ft. tall and depicting the crucifixion and scenes from the life of St. Patrick, the top of the cross was blown down in 1976, but much of the decorated shaft remains.

  © 2004-2005 F.J. & K.D. Schorr - All rights reserved.