Rock of Cashel (Ireland)

In thinking of atmospheric places abroad to write about for this month’s review, I immediately thought about the Rock of Cashel in Ireland, which we visited in the summer of 2019.  While we may not currently be able to travel to Ireland without a quarantine, hopefully regular trips can resume by summer of 2021.  If you are thinking about planning a trip to Ireland, the Rock of Cashel should be on your list!


The Rock of Cashel, rising high over the fertile countryside below, is a place steeped in Irish history and folklore.  It served as the seat of the kings of the Munster region and is the site where St. Patrick converted the king to Christianity in the 5th century.  The 12th century St. Patrick’s Cross is still located onsite.  Later it served as the capital for the famous Irish king, Brian Boru, and then became part of the church in the early 12th century.  The church built several buildings here, including Cormac’s Chapel and the round tower, dating from 1100!  

It has a grisly history from the times of Oliver Cromwell, who came to Ireland in the mid-17th century and fought its citizens.  His general attacked the town of Cashel, and its citizens fled to the cathedral on the Rock.  Due to the fire bombs and intense fighting, around 1000 people were killed. This event is now called the Sack of Cashel by historians.

Its location on a craggy hill, looking over the surrounding farms and small town, makes it the quintessential Irish historical site.  The sense of peace and history that you get as you walk its wind-swept grounds and tour its ruins is palpable.     

Read more about its history and architecture here. Also check out Rick Steves’ visit to the Rock of Cashel here (go to time stamp 19:50).


The Rock of Cashel makes a great stop on any trip from Dublin to the southern cities of Waterford or Cork.  We started our morning in Dublin and stopped for lunch in Kilkenny before making our way to the Rock of Cashel.  Ireland is a relatively small island so you can typically fit in several stops like this in a day!

The Rock looms above the rolling hills of the countryside and cannot be missed!  

There is plenty of parking at the base of the hill but be forewarned, the steep climb up the hill to the Rock will get your heart rate up!  Once you get there, you can buy your tickets for the tour, either self-guided or guided.  We did the self-guided tour, and our boys loved the freedom to roam the grounds.

Don’t miss the small museum located in the Hall of Vicars Choral, located just behind the entrance. 

This is where you can see the actual Cross of St. Patrick from the 12th century (a replica is in the original location outside of the cathedral).  Ask your kids why the mirror placed under the cross shows that it is hollow!

Original cross in museum
Replica cross outside in original location

Your kids will love walking through the open air cathedral ruins dating from the 13th century, which are evocative and haunting.

There are former crypts and paintings to view.

The scenery of the countryside from the hill is beautiful.  Our kids really enjoyed walking around and imagining themselves as knights coming to defend the cathedral in medieval times!

Thanks to our Rick Steves’ guidebook (this is an affiliate link), we knew to look for chiseled out squares in the exterior stone walls where the timber beams were fastened.  With the wood rotted away, these little holes are now filled with bird nests!

Cormac’s Chapel is the only interior space left in the cathedral and is stunning.  The round tower is quite impressive, knowing that it has stood for over 900 years! 

At the base of the Rock is the Brú Ború Heritage Centre, a cultural museum with live musical acts and theatrical productions.  It makes a great place to take a break before or after a trip to the Rock and has a tea room for a snack.  If you are staying overnight nearby, be sure to check out its events!

We didn’t spend a long time at the Rock of Cashel but our kids still think of it as the typical Irish experience.  If you are planning a trip to southern Ireland, a visit to the Rock will leave your kids awed!

Helpful hints:

  • Cost: 20EUR/family
  • Recommended for: all ages (note the steep terrain!)
  • Tour time: 30 minutes
  • Gift shop located at base of hill
  • Transportation: Accessible by car only
  • Dining options: The tea room at the nearby Brú Ború Heritage Centre is quick and easy.  The little town at the base of the hill (Cashel) has several traditional Irish restaurants.
  • Nearby hotels: There are several in the small town of Cashel.  The nearby towns of Waterford and Cork have traditional chains.  We stayed at the Castlemartyr Resort, 1 hour away.
  • Nearby attractions include: Brú Ború Heritage Centre, Cahir Castle (currently closed), and the lovely town of Kilkenny

Books to Read:

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