The skies above Cashel were ominously grey and the waiting group of locals lucky enough to get an invite to the Rock of Cashel for Queen Elizabeth’s visit held umbrellas aloft and donned plastic windsheeters to protect them from the drizzling rain as they waited patiently in line outside the Hall of the Vicar’s Choral.
Despite the windswept conditions, there was an air of great anticipation and excitement among the crowd, who represented a broad range of community organisations in Cashel from sports clubs and the Tidy Towns Committee to the Chamber of Commerce. They gave a cheer as members of the local and international media arrived to cover the historic event.
That sense of nervous anticipation was replicated inside the hall adjoining the Vicars Choral that was filled with local political, religious and civic leaders as well as senior OPW and Tourism Ireland figures.
Outside the security presence was everywhere. Gardai in luminous yellow high visibility vests were dotted all over the Rock. In the fields around Hoare Abbey they seemed to even outnumber the grazing sheep, standing stoically under white hawthorn ditches to shelter from the inclement weather.
When the helicopter transporting the royal party appeared in the skies above Cashel, the assembled dignitaries at the Rock crowded around a large television screen in the hall to watch the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh’s arrival.
Miraculously as the helicopter touched down in the Hoare Abbey field shortly before 9.50am, the skies cleared and the Rock of Cashel basked in the sunshine.
South Tipperary Co. Council Chairman Sean McCarthy gasped as Queen Elizabeth stepped out from the helicopter and walked unceremoniously across the wet field to the motorcade waiting to ferry her and her entourage up the freshly resurfaced road to the Rock. “Jesus, has she to walk far? She is a tough old lady isn’t she,” he declared in admiration.
The royal guests were greeted by Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin, Tipperary’s Minister of State Alan Kelly and Dr Eugene Keane of the Office of Public.
They visited the cathedral, viewed the imposing 12th century St Patrick’s High Cross and the conservation works being undertaken in the oldest section of the site - Cormac’s Chapel, which dates from 1134.
Conservation architects Aighleann O’Shaughnessy and Michele O’Dea described the most significant features and conservation work to the Queen and Prince Philip including the intricate work being carried out on conserving the wall paintings created by travelling monks in the 14th and 16th centuries.
Then it was onto the North Transept of the Cathedral where the royal guests paused to listen to 20 members of Cashel Community School Choir, led by their choir master John Murray, sing the beautiful traditional Irish blessing song “May The Road Rise To Meet You”.
The next stop was the Hall of the Vicars Choral where they were introduced to the Minister of State for the OPW Brian Hayes and the Rock of Cashel’s supervisory guide Elaine Moriarty. Elaine, who is the fourth generation of her family to act as guides on the Rock, showed them the Rock’s most precious artefacts - St Patrick’s Crozier and the Cashel Bell in the Medieval hall.
After signing the Visitor’s Book, the Queen and Prince Philip moved to the adjoining hall where four Bru Boru musicians struck up some lively traditional Irish music as the Queen and Prince Philip met with the waiting local dignitaries.
“I told her Cashel of the Kings has a queen at last,” a clearly chuffed Archbishop of Cashel & Emly Dr Dermot Clifford reported proudly after his encounter with the British monarch. The Archbishop and the Church of Ireland Bishop of Cashel Michael Burrows and Church of Ireland Dean of Cashel & Lismore beside him also had a chat with Prince Philip. “We told him that the two traditions were represented, the Catholic and Anglican and he said ‘sure we are all Christians anyway”.
“I told him we agreed with that. I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. I had a Confirmation today and I was wondering whether I would be able to be back in time. I got the Bishop of Ossory to stand in for me. I am 26 years doing Confirmations and this is the first I have ever missed but I am delighted to be here. It’s a great honour for Cashel and it’s going to be very good for Ireland,” he said.
Also star struck were South Tipperary TDs Tom Hayes and Mattie McGrath and Senator Denis Landy.
“I was introduced as the local representative and she said that I must be very proud of this part of the world because of the beauty and greenness of it. I told her that I was and that I hoped she would come back again sometime,” said Deputy Hayes, who broke the news of the Queen’s visit to Co. Tipperary through The Nationalist in March.
Deputy Mayor of Cashel Maribel Wood, who proposed that Cashel Town Council invite the Queen to Cashel, confessed she had tears in her eyes when she saw the Mayor Cllr Michael Browne meet the Queen. She said the Queen’s smile was lovely. “This is so big for Cashel. I am so proud that she came to the town,” she said.
Michael O’Byrne and Billy McCarthy, general operative workers at the Rock , also met the Queen. “She just complimented us on how nice the place was and asked us how many people came here. She seemed really happy about everything looking so well. It’s just brilliant. I never thought I would see the day,” said Billy.
Michael said the former French President Francois Mitterand and former Australian Prime Ministers Bob Hawke and Paul Keating were other world famous visitors to the Rock but he bregarded Queen Elizabeth’s visit was most special because of its historic context.
While they didn’t get to shake hands with the Queen, Cashel Tidy Towns Chairman Paddy Downey and Cashel Person of the Year Joe Currivan were thrilled to get very close to the royal visitor. “ We didn’t think we would get so near. It was a fantastic occasion. I got my invite last Monday in the post. I thought it was a great honour to be awarded the Lions Club’s Person of the Year but this invite capped it all,” said Joe.
The final part of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh’s visit to the Rock was to meet with the Cashel site guides and six Cashel Community School students Patrick Walsh, Saoirse Fitzgerald, Christopher Bowes, Robert Anglim, Elizabeth Ryan and Grainne Ryan.
Fifth year student Saoirse presented the Queen with a posy of flowers before she departed the Rock bound for Coolmore Stud.