Every Monday we share one of our favourite heritage sites to bring a little bit of Ireland into your inbox. In this edition, we travel to one of the most extensive and impressive medieval monasteries in Ireland - Kells Priory in County Kilkenny.
From a distance, Kells Priory resembles a large castle with high walls and strong towers. But despite its military appearance it was a place of prayer, founded by the Norman knight Geoffrey FitzRobert in c.1193 for the Augustinian canons.
The walls were very necessary, for as its prosperity and status grew, it began to gain some unwanted attention, and throughout the 13th and 14th centuries, Kells Priory was attacked a number of times.
In 1252, William de Bermingham attacked Kells, and in 1317 it was the turn of the army of Edward Bruce, brother of the Scottish king Robert the Bruce. He had launched an invasion of Ireland to try to break England’s colonies and to open a second front in the Scottish wars with England. Later, the Irish friar and chronicler John Clyn recorded that Kells was burned and the surrounding area devastated in the course of a baronial war led by a different William de Bermingham in 1327.
The de Berminghams certainly must have been difficult neighbours!
These strong walls enclose an area of nearly 3 acres, and the enormous scale makes this one of the most remarkable heritage sites to explore in Ireland.
Inside the walls you can discover the remains of the churches, the cloisters and the domestic buildings of the priors, such as kitchens and dormitories. After visiting the site, you can enjoy a lovely walk alongside the King’s River.
To get to Kells Priory from Kilkenny, take the ring road around the city and exit onto the R697 (signposted Kells). Continue on the R697 for about 11km. On entering the village of Kells, turn left. The priory should be on the left. The river walk can be accessed through the priory.