Kells (Irish: Ceanannas, meaning Great Chief Abode) is a town in County Meath in Ireland. The town lies on the N3 road, and lies 16 km (10 mi) from Navan and 65 km (40 mi) from Dublin. In recent years the town has expanded considerably with many Dublin commuters moving to the town.
The name Kells derives from Kenlis, an anglicisation of the Irish language word 'Ceann Lios'. Ceann Lios, meaning "head fort" appears to be another form of the name Ceannanus Mór. Kells, Kenlis and Headfort all feature in the titles taken by the Taylor family, and all contribute to local place names.
The monastery at Kells is thought to have been first founded around 804 A.D. It was founded by monks fleeing from St Colmcille's Iona monastery, to escape Viking invasions.
In 1152, the Synod of Kells completed the transition of the Roman Catholic Church of Ireland from a monastic church to the diocesan church that continues today. While called the Synod of Kells, this important Synod was transferred to Mellifont, Co Louth, and held there in March 1152. Kells was raised to a Diocese by the Synod, but was later reduced to parochial status. At the end of the 12th century Hugh de Lacy was granted the whole of Meath and under the Anglo-Normans the religious establishments at Kells flourished.
Kells, as border town of the Pale, was the scene of many battles, between Anglo, Irish and Norman fighters. During Tudor times, it was used as a mustering place for soldiers. From 1561 to 1800 Kells returned two Members of Parliament to the Irish House of Commons.
The period of the Irish Potato Famine saw the population of Kells drop by 38% as measured by the census records of 1841 and 1851. The Workhouse and the Fever Hospital were described as full to overflowing.
Places of Interest:
- The Abbey of Kells, with its round tower, is associated with St Columba (also called St Colmcille) and with the Book of Kells, now kept at Trinity College Dublin. The round tower and five large Celtic crosses that can still be viewed today. Four of the crosses are in the churchyard of St Columba's church, the other, a large Celtic cross that was positioned in the middle of a busy crossroads, until an unfortunate accident involving a cumbersome school bus. It now stands in front of a former courthouse (which is now a museum and coffeeshop), and has a roof over it to protect it from the elements (curiously a replica is completely safe from the elements inside the museum).
- Close by the graveyard of St. Columba's church stands a small stoned roofed Oratory (St. Columcille's House). This probably dates from the 11th century. Access to the monks' sleeping accommodation aloft is by ladder. This small rectangular building is positioned at one of the highest points in the town. The Oratory is kept locked, but visitor access can be arranged.
- Just outside the town on the road to Oldcastle, stands the Spire of Lloyd. This interesting towering building is an 18th century folly in the form of a lighthouse erected to the memory of Sir Thomas Taylor, 1st Earl of Bective, by his son. The tower is around 30 m (100 ft) high, and from the top one can see magnificent views of the surrounding countryside and as far as the Mourne mountains in County Down, Northern Ireland on a clear day. The plaque on the tower reads: 'This pillar was designed by Henry Aaron Baker Esq. architect was executed by Mr. Joseph Beck stone cutter Mr. Owen Mc Cabe head mason Mr. Bartle Reilly overseer Anno 1791'. The area around the tower has been developed as a community park (The People's Park), and includes the Paupers' Grave. This cemetery was a necessity in the times of great poverty in the country. Mass is still celebrated there annually and the cemetery is a grim reminder of the Workhouse and the extreme poverty which was engendered by changes in farming practice in the 19th century and also of the Famine.