Iconic Cormac’s Chapel at the Rock of Cashel re-opens to the Public

3 July 18

The Office of Public Works (OPW) has today welcomed the official re-opening of Cormac’s Chapel, an Irish Romanesque style building which forms part of the Rock of Cashel complex, following an extensive conservation project.

The project involved extensive works over a period of time to replace the failing roof of the Chapel and address the issue of water penetrating into the building and causing damage to the historic interior.  The Chapel is now safe from the effects of rainwater which can no longer leak into the building and the walls have been allowed to progressively dry out, revealing the wonderful remnants of the medieval wall paintings inside.

OPW Commissioner, John McMahon said, "We in the OPW are delighted to present the completed Cormac’s Chapel to visitors again.  This has been a really technically difficult and complex conservation project and we are delighted that it has turned out so well.  We are sure that visitors will agree with us when they see the magnificent wall paintings which have now been saved by the conservation action we’ve taken."

St. Patrick’s Rock or the Rock of Cashel, as it is more commonly known, is a spectacular collection of buildings set on an outcrop of limestone and is one of Ireland’s most important early medieval monuments.  A fortress is said to have existed on the site from the 4th or 5th century and the name itself, Caiseal in modern Irish, is an early borrowing from the Latin, castellum, meaning fort.

Cormac’s Chapel is situated on the south-east side of the main cathedral and is not only one of the most significant early Romanesque styled buildings in Ireland, but contains the fragments of an immensely important scheme of wall paintings.  The paintings had suffered deterioration due to the poor environmental conditions in the Chapel; both liquid water and water vapour made the walls extremely wet and led to algal growth obliterating the paintings from view and gradually eroding them completely.  The condition of the building, although structurally stable, was also identified to be extremely vulnerable to penetrating rainwater and this led to the decision to carry out this extremely challenging and complicated conservation project.

“In January 2010, to allow the building structure to dry, and to provide access to the roof and protection during the repair work, a roofed and enclosed scaffolding was erected over Cormac’s Chapel”, the Commissioner said today.  “This scaffold dominated the skyline over Cashel until early this year and I know it was a source of much comment locally, but thankfully, we can all be happy that it did its job!.”   The Commissioner also reflected that eliminating a significant amount of water from the structure has ensured that the very precious wall paintings, which have now been professionally conserved, are preserved for future generations and can once again be viewed by visitors to the site.

"The re-opening of Cormac’s Chapel offers the visitor a really special treat.  Tours of the Chapel are now available daily on a first-come, first- served basis with an extra flat-rate charge of €3", Commissioner Mc Mahon said. "In order to continue to preserve the humidity levels within the Chapel, we have had to restrict access so daily visitor numbers will be limited."


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Notes to Editors:

Photography from the launch will be available from Joe Kenny Photo graphics, 086 856 3894 or fethard@mac.com after the event.

Cormac’s Chapel was consecrated in 1134 and is one of the oldest medieval buildings of its type still surviving in Ireland. The exterior and chancel of the Chapel are decorated with round arches and chevron designs, and its steeply pitched roof is typical of the 12th century Irish style.

The sandstone Chapel is heavily decorated with carvings and its choir was, originally, covered from floor to ceiling with valuable frescoes depicting religious scenes. Fragments of these can still be seen today.  The conservation project undertaken by the OPW ensures that these remnants are preserved from the effects of damp and water penetration.

The conservation of Cormac’s Chapel commenced in 2010 and finished in late 2017. Since then, the building environment has been continuously monitored. The project, which was carried out by staff of the OPW National Monuments team based in Cashel, was supported by international environmental Consultants Tobit Curteis and cost approx. €570k over the ten years.

For conservation reasons, the relative humidity within the Chapel has to be maintained at a constant level; numbers of visitors are therefore limited. There will be 8 guided tours of the Chapel daily from 10am to 5pm accumulating with each individual gaining access inside the chapel for 15 minutes. (Maximum 100 per hour with limitations in place during inclement weather)