Kells Heritage Trail

Kells Heritage Trail

Kells, or Ceanannas Mór, meaning Great Fort, was known to be a royal residence before St. Columcille established a religious settlement in Kells in 550.  It is considered by many historians to be one of the most important monastic sites in Ireland.  Uniquely, Kells, a living town over one thousand years old, has its ancient and medieval remains everywhere in evidence.  A walk through the town will lead visitors to realise that its physical treasures are the monastic layout of the town, the Monastic enclosure with the High Crosses, Round Tower, St. Columcille’s House and the famous Scriptural Market Cross.

The Kells Heritage Trail guides you on a journey of points of interest all around the town.  The trail commences at the Old Courthouse (Heritage Centre) and ends at the Monastic Site.  There are a number of points that are a long walk / short drive outside the town centre.

You can also use the Heritage Audio guide to take yourself round the town - whatever you choose, enjoy the Story of Kells!

Click on a number on the map to access information about that point!

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1. The Old Courthouse

The courthouse, built in 1801, was designed by the prominent Irish architect Francis Johnston who also designed the General Post Office and Nelson's Pillar in Dublin, Townley Hall, County Louth and the front entrance to Slane Castle, County Meath. It now houses the Heritage Centre for Kells.

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2. The Market Cross

The famous 9th century Market Cross, the “Cross of the Gate” was originally located at the Eastern Gate of the monastery. It signified that a fugitive could claim sanctuary once inside the boundary of the monastic area. It currently stands outside the old Courthouse.

Damage to the cross is attributed to the 17th century army of Oliver Cromwell. Local belief has it that the cross was also used for hanging Croppies after the 1798 rebellion. (The Irishrebels of 1798 were referred to as Croppies, orCroppie Boys, because of their agrarian roots, or for their fashion of cutting or cropping their hair short in the then new revolutionary French fashion).

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3. St. John’s Cemetery

Here you will find the ruins of the Kells priory of the Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem (founded in Italy in 1113 to protect pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem). The priory was founded by Walter De Lacy, son of Hugh De Lacy (first Norman lord of Meath) in 1199. Ofinterest in the graveyard is a medieval grave slab depicting a lady wearing a linen wimple and carrying a “tau” stick in her right hand, known locally as “The Abbess”.

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4. Kells Town Hall

Kells Town Hall was originally designed as a bank in 1853 by William Caldeback and became the town hall in 1974.

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5. Parnell Garden

The sculpture “Angel of the Past” is by a local artist – from a sycamore tree which stood here when Charles Stewart Parnell addressed the people of Kells about land rights for Irish tenants.

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6. Oliver Usher’s Auction Rooms

A converted brewery where Ireland’s first lager, Regal (“Lager” backwards) was brewed in the 1930’s, now rebranded as Harp.

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7. Monastic Site

Kells contains a Round Tower and High Crosses which all form part of its monastic past.

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8. St. Columcille’s House

This is a stone oratory dating from the 10th century located in the centre of Kells. Monastic Site - More Information

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9. Churchyard Wall

This wall marks the boundary of the original monastery and was rebuilt in 1714.

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10. Bective Square

Here stands a bronze sculpture by a local artist of an oak tree depicting St. Columcille’s love of the oak tree.

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11. Presbyterian Church

One of the two Presbyterian churches in Meath, this was built in 1871 on lands donated by Lord Headfort. Most members then were Scottish families working on the Headfort Estate. Sunday worship now takes place at 10::00 a.m. and everyone is welcome.

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12. St. Columcille’s Well

A patron day is held annually on the eve of St. Columcille’s Feast Day, June 9th. Why not sit and enjoy a quiet moment. Throw a coin in the well and make a wish.

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13. Spire of Lloyd

This inland lighthouse was designed by Henry Aaron Baker (designer of the King’s Inn, Dublin)for the First Earl of Bective in memory of his father Sir Thomas Taylor in 1791.At 30m high, one can see magnificent views of the surrounding countryside as far as the Mourne Mountains in County Down, NorthernIreland on a clear day.

The Spire was used to view horse racing and the hunt in the 19th century.The Spire stands on the site of an iron age ring fort. The community park (The People’s Park)includes the “Paupers Graveyard”, in which many, many victims of the mid-19th centuryfamine lie buried.

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14. Kells Victoria Era Waterworks (currently closed to the public)

Kells Victorian era waterworks (1897) supplied water to the town and was recently restored by local volunteers and re-opened in 2009, winning many awards since then. It is the only hydro-powered pumping station in Meath.

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15. Headfort House & Bridge (5 minutes drive)

Thomas Taylor, a surveyor from Sussex, came to Ireland as an assistant to Sir William Petty to draw up the Down Survey. He purchased extensive lands around Kells. In the 1760s his successors commissioned the design of Headfort House by the architect George Semple. Headfort House contains the only intact Robert Adams interiors in Ireland, which are currently being restored under the aegis of the World Monuments Fund. Groups can beshown around by prior arrangement. Tel: 046 924 1284

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