3 lintelled, 4 angle-headed
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Cashel Round Tower Co. Tipperary
Cashel Round Tower
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
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
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.