Towering above the rich farmland in south-central Ireland 50 mi/80 km northeast of Cork, the Rock of Cashel is more than an impressive outcropping of limestone: Atop the rock are three outstanding examples of medieval Irish architecture that make it one of the best historic sites in the country.
The structures of note include a round tower that dates from around 1100; a large, roofless church from the 1200s; and Cormac's Chapel, a small but finely preserved Romanesque church made of sandstone that was built in 1127 by King Cormac McCarthy—be sure to see the frescoes on the ceiling and Cormac's sarcophagus. We recommend the hour-long guided tour of the rock: It gives you a better understanding of the architecture and of Cashel's past prominence. (St. Patrick performed some of his early conversions there. In fact, it's said that the devil was flying about with the rock in his mouth, was astonished to see St. Patrick and dropped the huge stone.) When you tire of dates and facts, simply enjoy the commanding view of the surrounding countryside.
After you come down from the rock, you might want to visit the Cashel Heritage Centre, or catch a Bru Boru show in the evening, which features traditional music and dancing.
In the town of Cashel is the Cashel Palace Hotel, built in 1730 as an archbishop's residence. Take a stroll through the building even if you don't want to pay the steep price of a room (a pretty trail runs from the foot of the rock to the hotel). It's said that the archbishop's brewmaster, a Mr. Guinness, hit upon his recipe for dark brown stout in this building.
If you'd like to tip a modern Guinness in tribute, there's a pub in the hotel and plenty more along Cashel's main street. Cashel can be seen as a day trip from Cork or Limerick. http://www.cashel.ie.
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