Every time I visit Ireland - no
matter where I'm scheduled to be - I
Rock of Cashel.
For me it is the quintessential thin
place, always drawing me, calling
me, awakening me.
The Pre-Christian and Celtic people
of Ireland, Scotland, Wales and
England had a keen sense for thin
places. The landscape in these
countries is littered with man-made
markings and ruins that remind the
passer-by that this is holy ground.
The rocks, trees and landscape seem
to contain the memories of spiritual
exercises here long ago and present.
Cashel is a thin place.
The very ground itself seems to call
out, “Come here and be transformed.”
In a quiet moment, the pilgrim today
can sense a connection with the
souls that have marked these spots
with their spirits. Cashel is a
vivid reminder that we are all
joined inside and outside of time.
The Tipperary Plain also known as
the Golden Vale, spreads like
a quilt of green and gold velvet
patchwork, delineated by hedgerows,
lines of trees and occasional
roadway, and framed by distant
Slieve Bloom Mountains. It’s called
the Golden Vale because of
the rich, fertile soil which brought
prosperity to those who farmed it.
Out of the center of the Vale,
rising some 200 feet is the Rock of
Crowned with the ruins of 11th
and 12th century buildings, the Rock
is woven into a series of legends,
all associated with power and
dominance that span nearly two
thousand years. The Rock is also
referred to as “the Devils Bit.”
According to Irish legend, the devil
was flying home (presumably to
England) when in a fit of anger he
bit off a piece of the Slieve Bloom
Mountains and spewed it out into the
middle of the Tipperary Plain,
creating the Rock of Cashel. There
is a unique “vacancy” in the hills
around Cashel that looks decidedly
like a bite. But the Slieve Bloom
are comprised of sandstone and the
Rock of Cashel of limestone, so the
Devil’s Bit theory is unlikely.
Legend states that St. Patrick
preached here in the fifth century.
He came to convert King Aengus and
baptized the King around 450 AD.
Patrick later made Cashel a
bishopric claiming it as a seat of
power long before it was the seat of
the high kings of all Ireland.
In the twelfth century, a high
cross, now known as "St. Patrick's
Cross," was erected at Cashel to
commemorate 800 years since St.
Patrick's visit. The original
cross is quite weathered, but the
image of the crucified Christ on
west face and the image of a man
(possibly St. Patrick) on the east
face can still be made out.
The cross rests on a massive base
repudiated to be the coronation
stone of the Kings of Muenster. A
replica of the cross and base greets
visitors as they enter the enclosure
on the Rock. The original
cross and base is in the museum -
also known as the Hall of Vicars,
which also serves as the Visitor's
The Rock, called Cashel of the
Kings – Cashel is Irish for stronghold – dominates the
surrounding landscape, its drama
unparalleled in Ireland, and its
history is every bit as dramatic.
For one thousand years it was the
seat of power for Irish kings and
bishops, ruling the surrounding
country, and for a time, the entire
country. For 400 years it rivaled
Tara as the seat of power for all of
Ireland. The kings of Munster were
crowned here and ruled from Cashel.
In 978, Brian Boru declared himself
High King of Ireland and was crown
on the Rock of Cashel. He made
Cashel his capital. Brian Boru was
the first to unite all of Ireland
with its centuries-long history of
warring clans and tribes. He was
also the last to unite all of
Ireland, for since his death in
1014, no one person has unified the
populations in all four provinces.
Boru’s descendants ruled from
Cashel for one hundred years after
his death when Murtagh O’Brien in
1101 gave the Rock of Cashel to the
Catholic Church and it began to
thrive as a Cathedral.
In 1647 the Earl Inchquin (under
Cromwell's influence) plundered the
city. The townspeople fled to
the Rock for safety and barricaded
themselves in the Cathedral.
Inchquin's army piled turf around
the cathedral and set it afire.
All inside were burned to death.
Over 800 people perished under that
attack. The Rock was
later abandoned, left to fall
further into ruin. Finally, in
1874 it was declared a national
monument and since then has been
I will never forget the first
time I saw the Rock of Cashel.
At 10:00 a.m. we came down the
Tipperary Road into Cashel. Seeing
the Rock emerge from the landscape
stirred childhood memories of seeing
Emerald City rise up at the end of
the yellow brick road in the Wizard
of Oz. It was a moment when time
stood still, burned in my memory
like a trauma or birth.
That day we climbed the Rock of
Cashel and wandered through the
Cathedral ruins and cemetery. I knew
nothing then about the history, who
lived there, who ruled from there,
what events took place there, but I
knew it was a thin place. There was
something exhilarating about Cashel,
an excitement, a sense of power.
Cashel has long been linked with
power. Warriors, chieftains, kings,
princes, saints and bishops have all
come here to mark the Rock as the
seat of power, and blood has been
spilled in that struggle for power.
The Rock is not a peaceful place -
as its legacy is riddled with
memories of those who fought for
power, stole power, ran to take
refuge under the mantle of the
powerful, and those who gloriously
won the power.
The thinness is palpable. Your
spirit is awake at Cashel.
I have returned to the Rock of
Cashel with every visit to Ireland.
I have seen the Rock lit up at
night, covered in rain and mist, set
against the frigid winter landscape
and lingering through the long days
of summer where the sun barely sets
before rising again.
The Rock of Cashel, though in ruin,
has a constancy; a historic
brilliance that defies the
modernization that grows around it
with new homes, buildings and
roadways. Cashel boldly claims her
history, memories of kings,
chieftains, warriors, bards, and
holy men - thrusting them before us,
urging us to enter in to her ancient
legacy - and to return, and return
So many people ask me, "What should
I see on my visit to Ireland?"
I always say, "Don't miss the Rock
of Cashel." Sadly, only a few follow
What a pity.
They'll never know what I know...
that Cashel will seduce you like a
lover and cling to your spirit,
planting some small charm that draws
you back to her, creating a hunger
for reunion. With each visit your
are strengthened and sustained ...
until the next time. Cashel is like
a first love. Though time, distance
and life experience may stand
between you - you never forget her,
and you will return to her over and
over in your imagination. You are
changed forever for having known