Thursday, December 6, 2012

Kells Priory, County Kilkenny

When you first encounter Kells Priory, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this is a castle given its strong defensive walls and towers, but Kells Priory was a monastery. It is superbly well preserved, and is one of the most striking and unforgettable monastic sites in Ireland. 

The Priory was founded in 1193 by Geoffrey FitzRobert, brother in law  to the famous Strongbow - Richard de Clare, leader of the Norman forces in Ireland. It was given to the Augustinian Canons, the biggest religious order in Ireland at the time.

The site itself was attacked and burned on three separate occasions, by William de Bermingham in 1252, then by Edward Bruce on Palm Sunday 1326, and then by a different William de Bermingham in 1327. The large walls and towers that enclose an area of approximately three acres possibly date to immediately after this turbulent period in the middle to late fourteenth century.

The Priory is situated on low lying ground near the King's River, which probably had a number of mills that provided flour and economic muscle to the Augustinian priors at Kells. The large walls that surround the site are nearly 6m in height, and over 1m thick with regular loops for arrows. It is clear that the Priory would have been well defended. Each of the towers along the walls served both a residential and defensive purpose. The first large enclosure that you enter is known as 'The Burgess Court' and it is thought that it provided a secure place for the lay population to take shelter during attack. The walls surrounding the inner part of the Priory are thought to have been constructed earlier.
The Church at Kells Priory dates to the earlier part of the activity, probably around the early part of the thirteenth century. It appears to have been altered and extended a number of times over its history.
The Priory is truly one of Ireland's hidden gems, a great place to visit and you'll often find you have the place to yourself. You'll find it about 15km south of Kilkenny City, near the village of Kells, signposted off the R697.

There are a number of other great sites in the locality, including the deserted medieval town of Newtown Jerpoint, the Neolithic Passage Tomb of Knockroe  as well as Jerpoint Abbey and Thomastown itself. 

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