There are two monastic sites in Ireland which are called Kells. One is in Co. Kilkenny (note to self, write about that one soon) and the other is in Co. Meath. The Co. Meath Kells has a round tower but as you’ll soon see, there is a lot more to the place than that.
The founding of the monastery here is attributed to St. Colmcille (a.k.a. St. Columba) around 554AD. Colmcille spent most of his life in Scotland and founded Iona Abbey in 563. The monastery at Kells was re-founded around 807AD, still with strong connections to Iona. This explains how the world-famous Book of Kells came to be in Kells. It isn’t clear when or where the book was written but it is generally believed that it came from Iona. It was likely moved to Kells for safekeeping because Iona, which is on an island, was frequently being raided by Vikings. The book went on to spend several centuries in Kells. It was moved to Dublin for safe keeping in 1654 and then given to Trinity College where it can still be seen. Most of what is to be found here now dates from after the monastery’s “reboot”.
The round tower stands in the corner of a churchyard and when viewed from the street, can be seen in its entirety. It has a plinth at its base, which isn’t often seen on these towers. Inside the churchyard, the ground is about 2m higher. And so, unlike many towers the doorway is now lower and can be seen without craning one’s neck 🙂
The tower no longer has its cap but is in good condition otherwise. Unusually, it has five windows on the top floor, rather than the usual four. It is thought that these were to symbolise or overlook the five ancient roads leading into Kells. Originally it had six floors but they are long gone, along with the ladders which brought people to the top.
What else is there?
The church for which the tower served as a belfry has long gone, replaced by a more modern building. Still, there are some 9th and 10 century high crosses in the churchyard. The South Cross stands near the round tower and is the oldest of these. It is somewhat worn but still fully intact.
The same can’t be said for the West Cross which is now just a shaft.
The North Cross
The East Cross was never finished. Still, it’s interesting to see how these crosses may have looked while they were being created
As for the North Cross…
Kells also has two other significant monuments, related to this monastery.
St Colmcille’s House is nearby. He never actually lived in it, being long dead before it was actually built. It is thought his remains were stored here for a while though. The Book of Kells was stored here too. You can see photos of the interior here
The Market Cross used to stand in a different location but was moved after one traffic collision too many. It now stands under a perspex roof near the old courthouse
The round tower and crosses are in the centre of Kells and are easy to find. St. Colmcille’s house is close to the churchyard. The market cross is a little further away but hopefully safe from being hit by marauding buses.
Gallery – Click on an image to launch