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The Rock of Cashel, to which the town below owes its origin, is an isolated elevation of stratified limestone, rising abruptly from a broad and fertile plain called the Golden Vale. The top of this eminence is crowned by a group of remarkable ruins. Originally known as Fairy Hill, or Sid-Druim, the Rock was, in pagan times, the dun, or castle, of the ancient Eoghnacht Chiefs of Munster. In Gaelic, Caiseal denotes a circular stone fort and is the name of several places in Ireland. The “Book of Rights” suggests the name is derived from Cais-il, i.e. “tribute stone”, because the Munster tribes paid tribute on the Rock. Here Corc, grandfather of Aengus Mac Natfraich, erected a fort. Cashel subsequently became the capital of Munster and, like Tara and Armagh, it was a celebrated court. At the time of St. Patrick, when Aengus ruled as king, Cashel claimed supremacy over all the royal duns of the province.
In the 5th century, the Eóganachta dynasty founded their capital on and around the rock. Many kings of Munster have reigned here since. Saint Patrick is believed to have baptised Cashel’s third king, Aengus. In 977 the Dál gCais usurper, Brian Boru, was crowned here as the first non-Eóghanacht king of Cashel and Munster in over five hundred years. In 1101 his great-grandson, King Muirchertach Ua Briain, gave the place to the bishop of Limerick, thus denying it forever to the MacCarthys, the senior branch of the Eóganachta. The bishops had a famous school in Cashel and sent priests all over the continent, especially to Regensburg in Germany, where they maintained their own monastery, called Scots Monastery.
Today the ancient metropolis of Cashel has lost its importance, and its population has fallen to just over 4,000, its highest population in 270 years.
Lordship of Ireland
The Synod of Cashel of 1172 was organised by Henry II of England. The Synod sought to regulate some affairs of the Church in Ireland and to condemn some abuses, bringing the Church more into alignment with the Roman Rite. It has been suggested that the seventh act of the Synod called upon the clergy and people of Ireland to acknowledge Henry II of England as their king. However, a careful reading of the seventh act would not support this interpretation. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that the King’s purpose in requiring the convocation was to overawe the Irish clergy with a display of his power; no doubt he succeeded in this. In this scenario, the convocation would be viewed as a pretext for the show of strength.
St. Dominic’s Abbey, a Dominican monastery, was established in 1243.
On 30 December 1640, Cashel was captured by an Irish force under Pilib Ó Dubhuir (died 1648) of Dundrum and his brother Donnchadh Ó Dubhuir (hanged in 1652). They took prisoner 300 members of the English garrison and inhabitants. The following day, 15 prisoners were killed as revenge for earlier atrocities against the Irish; however, this was against Ó Dubhuir’s orders. In 1647, during the Irish Confederate Wars, the town was stormed and sacked by English Parliamentarian troops under the 6th Baron Inchiquin (later created the 1st Earl of Inchiquin). Over 1,000 Irish Catholic soldiers and civilians, including several prominent clerics, were killed in the attack and ensuing massacre.