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Kells Monastic Past
Diarmuid Mac Carroll, High King of Tara is said to have granted the "Dún of Ceanannas" to St. Colmcille in the 6th Century to establish a monastery.  In 804, the Columban community on the island of Iona returned to Kells to escape the Norse raiding parties.

CHURCH OF IRELAND

This church marks the location of the town's original monastery established in the early Middle Ages by St. Colmcille's followers. It became the principal Columban monastery in Ireland.  However in 918, it was plundered and the church destroyed. 

The present Church on the site was built in 1778 and renovated in 1965. 

In June, July and August the church is open to tourists 10am to 1pm  and 2pm to 5pm. 

Visitors are always welcome to view the wonderful facsimile copy of the Book of Kells located here.

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ROUND TOWER

Dating from the 11th century this cloighteach (bell tower) draws you towards the monastic site refounded by St. Colmcille's followers in the early part of the 9th century.  Standing 90ft high it dominates the surrounding countryside as a powerful symbol of Christianity. Instead of the usual four windows, The round tower has five top windows that overlooked the five ancient roads leading into Kells and corresponded to the five medieval town gates.

Used as a lookout tower and place of sanctuary as well as a protection for the Book of Kells and other sacred treasures the Round Tower stood witness to countless bloody attacks by Vikings and native raiders alike.  Monasteries were favoured targets of the Vikings because they contained gold, silver and other valuables.  The monastery at Kells was noted for its metalwork and held treasures for example The Crozier of Kells encased in bronze and silver and The Cumdach of bronze and bejewelled with gem stones.

The year 996 saw the worst attack by Sitric Silk Beard, King of the Dublin Vikings.  In 1007 AD the Book of Kells was stolen and later found without its bejewelled cover.  By the 12th century Kells monastery had been burned 21 times and plundered 7. 

 

ST. COLUMCILLE'S HOUSE

 Here, in the stone oratory know as St. Colmcille’s House, the monks safeguarded the relics of the saint, establishing Kells an important site of pilgrimage for over 600 years.

 

The roof is barrel vaulted with three small chambers in the roof space.  The Columban community thrived and Kells became a centre of art, education and craftsmanship up to the 12th century. 

The 'Annals of the Four Masters' and the 'Down Survey' mention an underground passage from St. Colmcille's House to St. Columba's Church. 

 

St. Colmcille's House, Church Lane, Kells.

Illuminated in celebration of the 1500th anniversary of his birth in 2021.

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Images John Sheridan Photography

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HIGH CROSSES 

The Columban community thrived and Kells remained the chief monastery of Colmcille until superseded by Derry in the 12th century.  Its inhabitants - both monks and laymen - included scribes, stonecutters, goldsmiths, metal workers, woodcarvers and masons. As with great monastic houses the contemporary use of pattern books in the stone-carving workshops was maintained at Kells serving the requirements of the monastery and supplying outlying churches.  

The High Crosses in Kells are amongst the most important in Ireland.  There are three high crosses and a cross base on the monastic site. 

The Market Cross is located outside the Kells Courthouse,Tourism and Cultural Hub. 

 

The biblical scenes depicted on the crosses were used for religious instruction.  Devotional practices such as the "rounds" were performed by the many pilgrims to the monastic site.