My husband and I had a trip booked to Ireland in June 2020. Due to Covid, the trip never happened. For a myriad of reasons, it’s a trip that likely won’t happen any time soon. I’ve pulled up my old itinerary, and I’m going to explore as much of this holiday as virtually as I can! Please visit my BLOG page for previous entries.
DAY 6: take bus X8 from Dublin to CASHEL (8a-1008a) from Busaras Central Bus Station.
GOAL: Today’s goal was to learn about Cashel and its environs.
The Rock of Cashel, to which the town below owes its origin, is an isolated elevation of 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.
Set on a dramatic outcrop of limestone in the Golden Vale, the Rock of Cashel, iconic in its historic significance, possesses the most impressive cluster of medieval buildings in Ireland. Among the monuments to be found, there is a round tower, a high cross, a Romanesque chapel, a Gothic cathedral, an abbey, the Hall of the Vicars Choral, and a fifteenth-century Tower House.
According to local legends, the Rock of Cashel originated in the Devil’s Bit, a mountain 20 miles (30 km) north of Cashel when St. Patrick banished Satan from a cave, resulting in the Rock’s landing in Cashel. Cashel is reputed to be the site of the conversion of the King of Munster by St. Patrick in the 5th century.
The Rock of Cashel was the traditional seat of the kings of Munster for several hundred years prior to the Norman invasion. In 1101, the King of Munster, Muirchertach Ua Briain, donated his fortress on the Rock to the Church. The picturesque complex has a character of its own and is one of the most remarkable collections of Celtic art and medieval architecture to be found anywhere in Europe.
The Rock of Cashel in Tipperary Ireland does not constitute an actual castle but formidable stronghold that served as traditional seat of the Kings of Munster prior to Norman invasion in early 12th century. More than nine centuries ago in 1101, the King of Muster donated it to the church. Today, remains of the 13th century cathedral surround Cormac’s Chapel, which contains the only surviving Romanesque frescoes in Ireland. The Rock of Cashel represents one of Ireland’s most sacred locations still surrounded in myth and legend. Read on for more legends and hauntings.
During my readings about The Rock of Cashel, I came across an historical figure named Brian Boru who was a King of Munster in 978–1014 AD, and I want to share his story:
He was the founder of the O’Brien dynasty, and is widely regarded as one of the most successful and unifying monarchs in medieval Ireland.
While Brian may not have freed Ireland from a Norse (Viking) occupation, simply because it was never entirely conquered by the Vikings, his rule saw consistent conflict against Vikings and Viking-founded settlements, the latter all having been founded to give raiders easier access to the interior of Ireland. In the last decade of the 8th century, Norse raiders began attacking targets in Ireland, and beginning in the mid-9th century, these raiders established the fortified camps that later grew into Ireland’s first cities: Dublin, Limerick, Waterford, Wexford, and Cork. Within only a few generations, some Norse had converted to Christianity, intermarried with the Irish, and had often adopted the Irish language, dress and customs, thus becoming what historians refer to as the Hiberno-Norse.
Fun Fact: The descendants of Brian were known as the Uí Briain (O’Brien) clan, hence the surnames Ó Briain, O’Brien, O’Brian etc. O was originally Ó which in turn came from Ua, which means ‘grandson or descendant’ (of a named person). The prefix is often anglicised to O’.
His name is remembered in the title of one of the oldest tunes in Ireland’s traditional repertoire: “Brian Boru’s March“. It is still widely played by traditional Irish musicians.
2- IRISH ROUND TOWERS aka BELL HOUSES
This round tower is located next to the north transept of the 13th century Gothic Cathedral. Because the tower, the earliest of all the ecclesiastical buildings on the site now adjoins the great cathedral (13th century), it is not currently possible to measure the circumference at the base. Excavations done in 1841 found the tower built directly on the solid rock outcropping. Stonework lent stability to the foundations and it appears to have been built, as many other round towers were, on the site of an earlier burial ground.
The round towers still stand today because their round shape is gale-resistant and the section of the tower underneath the entrance is packed with soil and stones.
The towers were probably built between the 9th and 12th centuries. In Ireland about 120 examples are thought once to have existed; most are in ruins, while eighteen to twenty are almost perfect.
3- HORE ABBEY
Originally founded by the Benedictine order in 1266, Hore Abbey was given to the Cistercian monks from Mellifont Abbey in 1272 by David McCarvill, Archbishop of nearby Cashel. Tradition says that McCarvill expelled the Benedictine monks after he had a dream that they were about to kill him. He endowed the Abbey generously with land, mills and other buildings previously belonging to the town, which caused local resentment. The Abbey was the last pre-Reformation Cistercian foundation in Ireland. It was never prosperous; at the time of the Dissolution, the annual income of the abbey was valued at just £21.
Most of the abbey was built in the thirteenth century, however many changes were made to the buildings in the fifteenth century including the addition of the tower in the centre of the transept. The cruciform church comprised, in addition to the chancel, a nave with aisles and two chapels to the east of each transept. The nave is exceptionally plain and the overall design is a perfect example of the conservative approach of the Cistercians.
Cashel Folk Village is a multi-award winning museum, containing an incredible, vast collection of original memorabilia relating to many different periods of Irish history. Museum includes:
This caravan leaves most people absolutely gobsmacked, when they realize that it was home to 16 people at the same time i.e. 14 children and their parents, composed of 11 boys and 3 girls plus the father and mother. This caravan, most often referred to as a wagon by the people actually living in them, was still in everyday use up to as late as 1986, and was originally built in the 19th century.
The Easter Rising, also known as the Easter Rebellion, was an armed insurrection in Ireland during Easter Week in April 1916. The Rising was launched by Irish republicans against British rule in Ireland with the aim of establishing an independent Irish Republic while the United Kingdom was fighting the First World War. It was the most significant uprising in Ireland since the rebellion of 1798 and the first armed conflict of the Irish revolutionary period. Sixteen of the Rising’s leaders were executed from May 1916, but the insurrection, the nature of the executions, and subsequent political developments ultimately contributed to an increase in popular support for Irish independence.
Of the 485 people killed, 260 were civilians, 143 were British military and police personnel, and 82 were Irish rebels, including 16 rebels executed for their roles in the Rising. More than 2,600 people were wounded. Many of the civilians were killed or wounded by British artillery fire or were mistaken for rebels. Others were caught in the crossfire during firefights between the British and the rebels. The shelling and resulting fires left parts of central Dublin in ruins.
A meeting called by Count Plunkett on 19 April 1917 led to the formation of a broad political movement under the banner of Sinn Féin which was formalized at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis of 25 October 1917.
Needless to say, this is now retrospectively accepted as being one of the most horrific periods in the entire history of this country. While referred to as the Famine, the reality is that more people died from disease than from starvation during this unforgettable period. While we will never know the truth of the actual number that was lost through disease, starvation, and emigration during this period, it is generally accepted that up to 2.5 million men, women, and children is a reasonably accurate number. Even if it was only a fifth of that number, it was still far too many. We have attempted to create an as true-to-life picture as possible of what the conditions were like for those misfortunate suffering people during the time related to in this particular museum.
About The Great Famine:
- The Great Famine, also known as the Great Hunger, the Famine (mostly within Ireland) or the Irish Potato Famine (mostly outside Ireland), was a period of mass starvation and disease in Ireland from 1845 to 1852.
- From 1845 to 1849 Ireland’s potato crop was ruined by late blight, a disease that destroys both the leaves and the edible roots of the potato plant. Many Irish peasants relied on potato farming for their main source of food and income. Without the potato, they had little food to eat and no money to pay their rent, so great numbers of the Irish poor found themselves hungry and homeless.
- Soup kitchens provided limited food rations, and cornmeal was imported, but this was not enough to prevent malnutrition. Weakened from hunger, people could not fight off disease, causing more deaths. Relief came slowly. Ireland was ruled by Great Britain, and for the majority of the famine, Great Britain was led by a prime minister who believed that the government should interfere as little as possible in the economy. Irish landowners initially helped their tenants, but without rent coming in, they could not continue this for long.
- Private groups from other countries were moved by the plight of the starving Irish people and tried to help. Relief money came from England, India, Australia, and the United States. The Choctaw nation sent $170, a considerable amount of money at the time. The Choctaw people had been among the first American Indians forced to give up their land and move to the Indian Territory. While they had no family ties to Ireland, the Choctaw people understood firsthand the suffering endured by the Irish and wanted to help.
- One million Irish people died over the course of the potato famine—nearly one-eighth of the country’s population.
- Landlords were responsible for paying the rates of every tenant whose yearly rent was £4 or less. Landlords whose land was crowded with poorer tenants were now faced with large bills. Many began clearing the poor tenants from their small plots and letting the land in larger plots for over £4 which then reduced their debts. In 1846, there had been some clearances, but the great mass of evictions came in 1847.
- Many Irish people fled their country to escape the famine—perhaps as many as two million. This led to a growth in the Irish populations of other countries, such as the United States. Almost half of all immigrants to the United States during the 1840s were Irish.
- Ireland’s population continued to decline in the decades after the famine. By 1921—the year of the country’s independence—Ireland’s population was barely half of what it had been before the famine.
- The Irish Poor Laws were a series of Acts of Parliament intended to address social instability due to widespread and persistent poverty in Ireland.
- The workhouse was introduced into Ireland as part of the English Poor Law system in 1838. The British government believed it to be the most cost effective way of tackling the desperate state of poverty in Ireland. Some English politicians also believed that it would prevent the Irish destitute from swamping England. Workhouses were not designed for Famine conditions.
- The workhouse was an institution which operated in Ireland for a period of some 80 years, from the early 1840s to the early 1920s. There were 163 workhouses in total. If people could not support themselves, they could come into the workhouse. Here they would do some work in return for food. People had to stay and live in the workhouse and so the system was known as indoor relief.
- Conditions of entry into the workhouse were very strict and entry was seen as the last resort of a destitute person. Once inside the inmates were forced to work, food was poor, and accommodation was often cold, damp and cramped.
- During the Great Irish Famine, most of those arriving at the workhouse gates were already at death’s door. Starving and sick with the fever, many died at the gate before admission or very soon afterwards. Packed beyond capacity, disease spread out of control and even the most healthy succumbed and died (including doctors and other members of staff).
Hotel: Cashel Rockville House B&B (2 nights/ $70 night, inclu breakfast)
Time now for Ryan’s Whisky Review!
So we’re heading from Dublin to Cashel to see some UNESCO sites, but there’s a distillery that I want to tour named Cooley. However, it’s north of Dublin which is nowhere near Cashel, and it’s probably a good thing for our health that it’s closed to the public because else I’d suggest that we get drunk there. Yet, the question begs, why this distillery?
Back in 1987, a man named John Teeling sought to take advantage of the decline in the Irish whiskey market and purchased a potato alcohol plant on the Cooley peninsula. Hold up….did I say potato alcohol plant? Yes, they made something called Poitin, aka Irish moonshine, and it’s pronounced like my favorite bar food, poutine. Mmmm, poutine! So, this Teeling fella converted the facility to a whiskey distillery and purchased the rights to the known but defunct whiskey brands, Kilbeggan and Tyrconnel. He then went on to produce Ireland’s first peated whiskey, Connemara which was very sacrilegious at the time since it was twice distilled instead of triple and was a single malt, and who had ever heard of a wee dram of peated Irish whiskey?
Peated whiskey is a distinct characteristic of whiskey that has been made famous by the Scottish island of Islay. Peated whiskey is created during the malting process. The process goes something like this: grains of barley are spread on a floor, soaked with water to start the sprouting process, which creates sugars for fermentation, then dried by a kiln below the floor to stop the sprouting process. When I think of a malting floor, I’m always transported to caldariums in Roman bathhouses where they burned wood a floor below and the heat rose through holes to the level above. For the first few hours of the drying process, peat is added to the fire and adheres to the grains as they dry creating a smokey and vegetal flavor. What exactly is peat, you ask? Peat is compressed organic matter that hasn’t fully decayed through the thousands of years, but since they were plants, they still have some energy to release. It was discovered you could burn peat for heat and fuel eliminating the need for wood. I like to think peated whiskeys become full expressions of the terrior wine enthusiasts like to focus on. Islay whiskys (not a typo Scotch drops the “e”) are some of the most challenging whiskeys as the smoke is cranked up to 11 and more smoke means more peat flavor, which is described in tasting notes as iodine, bandaids, or what the hell is that burning hospital flavor?!
Which brings us back to Connemara, being peated at half the strength of Islay whiskys making it a great entry point. Connemara, a blend of 4, 6, and 8-year-old single malt whiskey, brings the smoke and light peatiness sans burnt bandaids, and is balanced by a sweet honey note that is like sunshine during a rainstorm. Lots of drama, but nothing too intense. From there you might want to explore Islay whiskys such as Ardbeg, Lagavulin, or Prince Charles’ favorite, Laphroiag.
A parting note on the Cooley distillery, it was so successful in re-establishing the Kilbeggan brand that they brought it from the literal brink of destruction. The town of Kilbeggan is the site of the original brand distillery, which was closed in 1958. In 1962, it was purchased to sell off the stocks of whiskey, and it transitioned into a manufacturing site. In 1969, it was sold to a loading shovel manufacturer who then sold off the stills and condensers, and finally a preservation society purchased the site and turned it into a whiskey distillery museum in 1982. By 2010, Cooley was able to refurbish the museum and open the Kilbeggan distillery in town once again.
Being a history nerd, I’m sure that Krista won’t mind if we make a quick out of the way and totally not on the itinerary stop in Kilbeggan, right? You know, for the sake of research.
Next up: CAHIR day.