Kells Priory has to be one of the most vast and impressive medieval structures in the whole of Ireland. I had only heard of the name and hadn’t seen any pictures before my visit to this site during the late months of summer 2012. When I finally carrived I was in awe at what I saw as Kells looks like a medieval walled town or fortress. Locally it was named the ‘Seven Castles’ due to the seven massive towers joined together by walls that surround a site of 3 acres in size. The site is under the protection of the OPW but luckily there is still no tourist information centre or guides and in my mind this is preferable to get fully into my imagination as I walked around, the only soul in the whole place.
Before my visit I had known of the historical links to witchcraft/heretic trials in the middle ages but didn’t know the full history of this amazing place. The priory was built on the ruins of an earlier church but the brother-in-law of Strongbow, Geoffrey FitzRobert in 1193. During the first 150 years the priory was attacked and burned on at least three recorded occasions. It appears that the walls and fortifications were built during this period of unrest. In 1324 the Bishop of Ossory Richard de Ledrede paid a visit to the priory. There was an inquisition into a group of heretics accused of witchcraft in the Kilkenny area. Alice Kyteler, an infamous suspected ‘witch’ from Kilkenny town itself – if you ever happen to be in Kilkenny town check out her old pub which is still in use – was asked to come before the inquisition but fled to England Another woman named Alice Smith who was asked to stand trial fled also, however her mother Petronilla de Meath became the first Irish heretic to be burned at the stake. A third defendant William Outlawe was ordered to appear but due to his friendship with Arnold de Paor, Lord of Kells, instead he had the Bishop imprisoned in Kilkenny Castle for 17 days! The priory was dissolved in March 1540 and property given over to James Butler, 9th Earl of Ormonde.
The remains of Kells Priory are extensive and consist not only of the seven towers and walls but also a church, a chapel, prior’s residence and a number of domestic buildings. During the extensive excavations approximately 20,000 artifacts were found giving us an insight into the ways of life within the priory walls during the early medieval period.
Its amazing how few people seem to know about this site because it is a place that couldn’t help but inspire anyone, if you get a chance to visit please do; I know I shall be there again, running around like a four year old who thinks they just found their very own castle!
GPS: 52.53904, -7.26839