Map of The Royal Sites of IrelandLoad map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
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.
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.
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 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.
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Before modern times and the English conquest, Ireland was never a unified country. It consisted of several individual kingdoms spread across the island. So the title "Royal Sites of Ireland" is a bit misleading. These are not the royal sites of the kingdom of Ireland, but of several of these Irish regional kingdoms.
During my Ireland trip I managed to visit both Cashel and Tara. Both are situated on hills overlooking the surrounding plains. As such, they offer a natural defensive positions and were natural choices to set up a castle and seat of government.
Tara is the older site, at least with regards to the remains. It consists of earthen mounds and forms, partially dating back to neolithic period. The Mound of the Hostages is the most significant structure. It's a passage grave and similar to nearby Newgrange. The site also houses an 11/12th century church.
While there is no evidence for an Irish high king ruling over the whole island, Tara was named as the ancient seat of the High King in the 11th century book Lebor Gabála Érenn. It has kept the reputation ever since. Personally, I am wondering if the local rulers didn't just make up the myth to bestow extra importance on their kingship.
Cashel is the younger site with most remains from after 11th century. The upside is that you have a tangible site to visit. Cashel covers the whole range of what you would associate as Irish: It's a castle, has a high cross and a ruined limestone cathedral. And nearby you find even more monasteries in ruin.
If I had only been to Cashel, I would probably concur with Ian's assessment to not inscribe. Don't get me wrong: I think it's a great site to get an introduction to Ireland. But it doesn't have enough OUV on its own. But Tara is unique and would provide some background on Ireland's past and development. Also taking into considering that Ireland's list as of 2019 is way too short (2), I would favor inscription.
Tara is a simple local bus ride from Dublin. They will drop you off at the main road and it's a short walk up the hill. The bus continues to Kells, one of the Early Monastic Sites of Ireland, so you can (and should) combine the visits.
Cashel is a 2h bus ride from Dublin. The castle/abbey/ruin is smack in the center of town, so hard to miss. If you plan to travel to west coast, it seems a natural stop.
The Rock of Cashel is an impressive site and should be protected. However, in the village of Cashel is the folk museum, covering many aspects of Irish history, however painful. I believe this too is worthy of consideration. I have visited it three times in the past 18 months, each time, improvements have been made and new artifacts added.
Located on a rocky outcrop in Southern Tipperary, Cashel is a nice place to stop on the way down to the South West. It sits up and dominates the landscape; it is pretty evident why this site was chosen for a fortification.
There are many sites like this in Ireland boasting remains of a castle, a round tower, a ruined cathedral and a high cross. Cashel is one of the more impressive sites in the country and is well worth the time to see if you are heading down to the South; it is on the Dublin - Cork bus route, providing an ideal break in the journey.
Whilst the remains are impressive, being one of the finest examples of Celtic art from the 12th-13th centuries, I'm not sure they would make it onto the list. Ireland does not seem as intent as other countries to use the list as a means to attract tourists and as such these sort of sites will not be promoted as they would elsewhere in the world. However I think this is a very impressive site and well worth a stop.
Former TWHS Cashel (1992) was subsumed into this T site
2010 Added to Tentative List
The site has 5 locations