Blog TWHS Visits

The Royal Sites of Ireland: Cashel

Just 3 weeks after the St. Kilda failure, I went on my way to another Atlantic Island WHS: Skellig Michael. Months before I had booked a tour for Saturday the 17th of August, but already on Friday morning it was clear that boats would not sail either on Friday, Saturday or Sunday because of rough seas. So I tried to make the most of my time and have a closer look at the Irish Tentative List. The country so far has only 2 WHS. And although the island isn’t exactly dotted with highlights, there must be some more potential. My first stop was in the town of Cashel, where I visited one of the Royal Sites of Ireland also known as the Rock of Cashel.

Cormac's Chapel stands out

The Royal Sites TWHS comprises 5 locations, mostly in the Dublin area. Cashel however lies about an hour north of Cork, where I had flown into. They were sacred sites and places of royal inauguration for the medieval kings of the Irish provinces. Cashel was the place of the kings of Munster. Like the others, it “is strongly linked to myth and legend and are associated with the transformation of Ireland from paganism to Christianity and Saint Patrick”: Cashel is reputed to be the site of the conversion of the King of Munster by St. Patrick in the 5th century.

The historical remains of Cashel lie on a prominent rocky outcrop, just above the modern town of the same name. The best views on it as a whole can be had from the other side however, from the road leading out of town and into the countryside. I involuntarily drove that route twice while looking for a parking space. There is a large car park at the foot of the Rock, but somehow I missed its entrance from the town center. So I ended up parking in the streets in the outskirts of town. This costs 2 EUR (coins only) for a limited 2 hours. Those 2 hours proved to be just enough: I had lunch in one of the cafés and wandered around on top of the Rock for about 1.5 hours.

Some of the mysterious head sculptures

Although it may ‘only’ seem to be a minor location of a TWHS with an unsure future, the Rock of Cashel is a hugely popular tourist attraction. When I arrived around 12.30pm, I even had to queue for a little bit to get my tickets. The entrance fee is 11 EUR and that includes a guided tour of Cormac's Chapel. This early 12th century Hiberno-Romanesque royal chapel has only reopened last year after a 9 year long restoration period, during which it was left it in scaffolding and under cover (you can see that in the photo attached to Ian’s review of a visit in 2009). Nowadays it looks so great that it seems to be the newest building at the Rock – but it is the second oldest.

The tour took some 50 people, so it was hugely crowded, but the guide managed to make himself heard and get some 10-15 minutes basic history and architecture lesson delivered before entering the doors of the church. The story of its restoration really is a remarkable one: this is the only construction on site made out of the more expensive but also more porous limestone. So the restoration started with covering it all and let it dry out for a few years!

The remains of Scully's Cross

The interior of the chapel makes you feel like you’re in Spain or Italy. Although it is empty inside, the sculptured wall decorations are still there – these are decorated pillars and sculpted ‘heads’ of people and other beings. These heads stick out from the walls and are in an excellent condition. Don’t forget to step out at the backside where you can see its original doorway, with a carving of a centaur attacking a lion with arrows. The area around the altar used to be fully covered with religious murals, but these haven’t survived the test of time and the whitewashing well.

The rest of the top of the hill is also worthwhile to visit. It includes the ruins of the large Cathedral and many stone crosses, all dotted on a grassy plain with views on the classic green Irish countryside.   

Els - 18 August 2019

Leave a comment


Jay T 19 August 2019

Ah, I should have looked at the site page to see your thumbs up, Els! I look forward to seeing the continuation of your Irish Tentative List reviews next week. I’m really sorry Skellig Michael didn’t work for you; boat trips can be so unpredictable.

Ian Cade 18 August 2019

I look forward to that, though I'm in agreement with Nan, I would throw in Glendalough (Early Medieval Monastic Sites) as a worthy inscription as well.

Els Slots 18 August 2019

I will write more on the Irish T List in next week's blog! (cliffhanger...)

Nan 18 August 2019

>> And although the island isn’t exactly dotted with highlights, there must be some more potential.

I think there are plenty of potential sites dotted all over Ireland. It's just that Ireland doesn't seem to be making much of an effort of moving tentative sites to inscription.

Of the current T-list, I would rate Clonmacnoise and Dùn Aonghasa (Stone Forts) as great additions to the list. Good additions would be Tara (Royal Sites) and Dublin.

Ian Cade 18 August 2019

The restoration looks good, just to flag up my review is from 2009 but my visit and photo were from 2005! So that restoration has been a long process.

Els Slots 18 August 2019

I gave it a thumbs-up!

Jay T 18 August 2019

Wow, the chapel looks good! Glad it was open for you; it looks a lot different with the scaffolding removed. So what are your thoughts on whether the Royal Sites should be a World Heritage Site, or are you reserving judgment until you see other components?