About Kells Priory
The atmospheric ruins of Kells Priory in Ireland give a glimpse into the turbulent world of medieval Ireland.
History of Kells Priory
Originally founded by Geoffrey FitzRobert de Marisco in 1193, Kells Priory was the successor of an earlier parish church which served the village of Kells. The priory was attached several times in the 13th and 14th centuries: heavy fortified walls enclose the priory, which might initially appear unusual but give a feel for the turbulent times in Ireland at the time. They also helped give the priory its nickname – the ‘Seven Castles of Kells’.
The Bishop of Ossory visited the priory in 1324, and oversaw the trial of a sect of heretics from nearby Kilkenny: unusually, one of the suspects had backing from the Lord of Kells, who had the bishop imprisoned in Kilkenny Castle for 2 weeks for his part in the proceedings.
Kells Priory was dissolved in 1540, under Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. The church and its property were surrendered to James Butler, Earl of Ormonde.
The site was only excavated in the 1970s, and proved to be a veritable treasure trove of finds, including stained glass which has given us some idea of the decorative windows that would have been used in the priory.
Kells Priory today
The remnants of the abbey can be wandered around freely, and are set in acres of green farming countryside. There’s no visitor centre or amenities: the site is unmanned (mostly), so it’s worth reading up on detail before you go. Wear sturdy shoes: the ground can be damp and beware sheep droppings.
If you’re lucky, you might catch the local historian/custodian on his rounds. He has the key to some of the seven watchtowers, which allows you to climb to the top for a great view of the surrounding area.
Go at dusk on a clear day to catch the picture perfect evening light, and imagine what life must have been like for those who lived and worked here nearly 1000 years ago.
Getting to Kells Priory
Kells Priory is located in County Kilkenny, a few kilometres off the M9. It’s about a 20 minute drive from the town of Kilkenny. There are no public transport options in this case, so unless you’re planning on hitching, you’ll need to take a taxi if you don’t have a car.