Saturday, 19 May 2012

Kells Priory Co Kilkenny

                                      Above Image: View from the Kings River

                            Below 3 Images: St Kieran's Church ruins on Kells site

                                    Above Image: Route down to the Entrance

The Augustinian Priory of Kells is situated beside the Kings River about 9 miles south of the City of Kilkenny. It is one of the largest ecclesiastical sites in Ireland and yet remains somewhat low key. In fact We only stumbled upon it while researching some other smaller sites in the vicinity.
The Priory was founded in 1193 by Geoffrey FitzRobert and it found itself under siege several times from the DeBerminghams and Edward the Bruce between 1252 and 1327. The Bishop of Ossary made a well known visit here in 1324 to prosecute a number of locals accused of Witchcraft. The Priory was finally surrendered in 1540 to James Butler, Earl of Desmond and dissolution soon followed.
The Priory is comprised of two sections, the interior Monastic buildings and the large outer enclosure which in it's time acted not only as a defence mechanism but also to protect the flocks of Sheep from marauders. Funnily enough the Sheep are still a feature today but tend to be on the other side of the walls.
The easiest access to the ruins is by way of a pedestrian gate in the wall of the southernmost side of the site. The OPW have graciously provided a small car park and some picnic tables. On the eastern edge of this car park lie the ruins of St Kierans, a small parish Church now locked up, but if you are agile enough you can clamber over the wall to the left of the gate and take a look inside.
To access the Priory itself, you will need to cross a meadow. On our visit it was late April and lambing season, so the meadow was littered with wary looking Sheep protecting their off springs. We skirted around them so as not to cause alarm (or to get chased by a Ram!).
The sheer length of the surrounding walls of the Priory are breathtaking and surpass the fortifications of many of of the defencive Castles in this country. Locally these fortified walls are known as "Seven Towers".
 The main entrance gate is down a slope from the meadow on the eastern facing side. The ruins of the Monastic buildings can be accessed from here by either a large gate Tower on your far right hand side or a metal gate on your near right side Either will do. Once inside you are met with a sprawl of foundations and ruined buildings, some with very decorative stonework. It takes a while to soak it all up and have a good look around.
The site appears to have recently been under some restorative work but this may have been halted due to the economic downturn. A lot of scaffolding has been left in place but it doesn't detract from the enjoyment of the visit. Platforms have been laid at various unstable points so that you can still get a safe view. The foundations and walls that scatter the area indicate how really big this Priory was with it's many rooms both large and small.
Kells is one of those rare places that is so interesting that it makes you wonder why it is not as widely known. Up the road Jerpoint Abbey is stuffed with tourists while we only encountered 4 other people during our time there. I much prefer the quieter sites anyway as you can take in the surroundings without noise or distraction, but still it would be a shame for Kells not to be given the opportunity to be appreciated by more people.
Around the rear of the ruins lies the Kings river and there are some very picturesque views of the Priory from here.
To find Kells Priory, take the M9 Dublin to Waterford Motorway and exit for the N10 just after Kilkenny. Follow this road for about 5KM until you reach a sign for Stoneyford. Take the next right onto Lawcus Fields and drive for about 1KM. You will pass over the M9 Motorway and about a further kilometre down this road you will find the car park on your right.

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