Speak Religiously and Carry a Big Stick


After Cork, the three of us took the bus to Cashel, a small town on the road to Dublin. It wouldn’t be really all that remarkable but for the castle that sits on a hill to one side of the town. Or maybe it’s the sheep.

The Rock of Cashel doesn’t really look like the usual kind of castle you might see in Ireland – this one is a bit low on walls – but that is mainly because it ceased to function purely as a military post in 1101, when it was given to the church, and used as the seat of a bishop.

Getting away from the castle for a while, this is where we stayed:

Well, not really away from the castle.

It’s also really close to a place called Hore Abbey, which was my personal favorite of Cashel. It’s a moody set of ruins of a 13th century Cistercian monastery; I loved it so much I went there each day that we were there (a total of three times) – it wasn’t that difficult, either, as it was just across the road from our bed and breakfast. Talk about a tiny neighborhood!

Nevermind that you have to wade through a whole bunch of cows to get there…

This place was a photographer’s paradise; every time I went there I was finding new angles and interesting details and cursing the fact that I didn’t have a fancy-schmancy camera – this from someone who took no photos for over a year before going abroad!

So what follows is a miniature photo album:

Hore Abbey was founded by Benedictines in 1266; they were there until 1272, when they were expelled and replaced with the Cistercians, due to the influence of Bishop David McCarvill. The good bishop put all this into action because of a dream that he had one night, that the Benedictines were hatching a plot to chop his head off. It may have also been a pretty watery excuse to expunge a sect he didn’t like – for that matter, after the dust cleared, McCarvill himself became a Cistercian.

We saw the castle on the second day. The fun part about it was that since the castle is set on a high hill, it means that no matter the weather, it’s going to be freaking freezing. Which it was, on that day. We were informed by the guides that it is sometimes necessary to wear thermal gear at the Rock of Cashel even in the hottest days of the summer.

The castle is actually a pretty big deal for Irish religious history: it was where Saint Patrick converted King Angus to Christianity in the fifth century (about 448 A.D.). During the ceremony, Saint Patrick accidentally drove his staff into the king’s foot – Angus didn’t say anything, though: he’s even reputed to have made no sound at all, except for what was required of him, as he thought that it was part of the procedure. It was also on the Rock of Cashel that Patrick gave the shamrock analogy to explain the holy trinity to the masses.

There are some misconceptions about Saint Patrick, though – like that whole thing about him driving all of the snakes out of Ireland. Total crap. The fact is that since Ireland is an island (gasp!), snakes never really got the chance to make it over. Other stories include St. Pat’s ash staff growing into a tree and his ability to speak with Irish ancestors.

This was part of the rather small indoor museum – I say that it was small because it was warm and we spent so much time outside in the cold. And the wind. And the cold.

The indoor part was a small exhibit room (weapons, pottery, jewelry, that kind of thing), as well as a kitchen area and the great hall. The great hall was the prettiest, so that’s what you’re seeing.

And now for another photo gallery:

This is the cross of Saint Patrick, and it’s famous for something. My brain was asleep at that part (or maybe just frozen solid).

The view from the hill was tremendous:

The oldest part of the whole compound is Cormac’s Chapel, a small Romanesque affair from the early 12th century. It’s not very well preserved, which might have something to do with 100 years of disuse before the first attempts at restoration (which was about 1870, to give you an idea).

After the castle we went into the town, walked around, and thawed out.

This seemed quite poignant to me, as my first exam was a little over a week away at that point.

This is a building termed the Bishop’s Palace, which was the residence of the bishop at Cashel after 1749, when Bishop Arthur Price decided to move the cathedral and his residence from the Rock to more temperate climes. I don’t blame him!

Another cool thing about this building is that the foundations for Ireland’s most famous brew were laid here: Arthur Guinness was one of the people that worked at the Palace, operating the distillery there (it wasn’t uncommon for large households to brew their own). After a while, he decided that his beer was good enough, moved to Dublin, and eventually got into the big leagues.

We walked about for a bit and then found our way to the folk museum:

This place was quite cool – it was obvious that it was an amateur project, but it was also a concentration of so many interesting things that it was impossible not to love. Granted, there were loads of dusty creepy dummies, but I survived by dodging their unblinking eye contact whenever possible. (Shudder.)

There was a small chapel that was used during the time when Catholics were persecuted by the English, under the Penal Laws; a one-room museum on the Easter Rising of 1916; another one-roomer on the Great Potato Famine (so named as ‘Great’ because it was the biggest of all the others); a memory garden with a monument and other artifacts; and last, there was a tinker’s wagon:

Tinkers were, at one point in history, wealthy people turned out by the English for their adherence to the Catholic faith (and for being rich, naturally); they took to living in wagons and became known for their skill as tinsmiths. Their caravans are also quite like you would expect a gypsy wagon to look like – that is because the tinkers took a hint from the Roma people on the continent.

This is the inside of the caravan; back in the day it was used by 14 children and their parents. Surprisingly, they’d all fit in: the parents had the top shelf, the smallest children slept in the cupboard underneath, the middle children slept on the benches and on the floor, and the biggest slept on pallets and blankets outside, underneath a tarp. This wagon is about 90 years old and was used until the early 80s.

The Tinker way of life died out in the 80s due to new education reforms: since children of tinkers didn’t get the best education due to their roving lifestyle, Ireland passed reforms to make attendance to schools (until a certain level) mandatory, nixing the lifestyle. The anthropologist in me heaves an unhappy sigh at this, but you can’t deny the fact that giving the tinkers education raised their level of comfort (and probably hygiene).

The other part of the museum I got really into was the piece of bog butter they had on a shelf in the main building:

This is butter that was placed inside a bog in order to preserve it; this served a couple of functions: for one, it meant that it wasn’t necessary to refrigerate it, as the bog would take care of that, and that should the village be pillaged by Iron-Age hooligans, all was not lost: the butter would be a valuable source of fat for people who would newly find themselves in possession of little else. It was also sometimes used as a sacrifice to the gods, not a bad choice, as butter would have been very important.

Bogs are great for preserving things: it’s a very low-oxygen, high acid environment, which is the perfect recipe for keeping something around (which also includes bodies, but there will be more on that in Dublin). The great part about bog butter is that it still smells like butter when you dig it up – unlike the human body, which won’t smell like the original, thousands of years later!

After the Folk Museum, we went back to the bed and breakfast, hoofed about Hore Abbey, and made dinner. In the morning, we made for Dublin.

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