Augustinian Priory

The Augustinian Priory at Kells is one of the most amazing monastic sites in Ireland and certainly amongst the largest. The Priory was founded in 1193 by Geoffrey FitzRobert de Monte Marisco (d.1211), a brother-in-law to Richard de Clare (Strongbow) and a knight of William Marshall (Earl of Pembroke). FitzRobert brought four Augustinian canons from Bodmin Priory in Cornwall, to help establish the monastic community.

Although Kells is only 15 kilometres from the medieval City of Kilkenny, where we stayed, it was late evening before we arrived here.This proved to be perfect timing as the Priory was lit up beautifully with golden light from the setting sun. As we approached the National Monument from the southern car-park we could see six of the seven huge tower houses that give the site it's local name "The Seven Castles". We walked around to the gateway on the eastern side of the southern enclosure -AKA Burgess Court.

Entrance to Burgess Court

Inside the Court

This enclosure was probably added in the 15th century. After the norman invasion, the Kingdom of Ossary was subdivided into Cantreds ( Baronies). Geoffrey FitzRobert was given the Barony of Kells and established a Motte and Bailey castle by the King's River. This Cantred included the Parishes of Kells, Kilree and Dunnamaggan. He was also granted lands at Dysart, Co Kilkenny. The Priory was attacked and burned on at least three occasions. Edward Bruce being one of those attackers in 1317.

The Bishop of Ossory visited Kells in 1324 to prosecute the sect of Kilkenny heretics that included Alice Kyteler, Alice Smith and William Outlaw. They were found guilty of practicing witchcraft, but Kyteler fled to England. Smith's mother became the first heretic to be burned at the stake in Ireland. The practice of always appointing Priors from the mother-house in Bodmin in Cornwall, ended in the middle of the 14th century.

Crossing tower

Burgess gate interior

The Priors at nearby Inistioge also came from Bodmin. The Dissolution of the monastery at Kells took place in 1540 and the lands were granted to James Butler, 9th Earl of Ormond, by Henry VIII. We entered the main monastic precinct through the entrance next to the central tower and stood in awe looking at the many monastic buildings glowing in the light. There was a lot of restoration and preservation work being carried out at the inner enclosure, but this took nothing away from our total enjoyment and wonder. What had started as a simple cruciform church dedicated to St Mary had extended in all directions. We are looking forward to our next visit.

A view of the crossing tower and the Prior's tower, on the right, taken on a return visit in October 2019.

Medieval graveslab with a floriated cross

Situated: From Kilkenny head south on the R697 after 15 kilometres turn left for Kells. The Priory is 300 metres down this road on your left.

Discovery Map 67 : S4969 4329. Last visit Oct 2019.

Longitude:  7° 16' 3" W

Latitude: 52° 32' 20" N

Google Map

Photos: Jim Dempsey and Deb Snelson.

Ref: Condit, Tom. “Heritage Guide No. 66: KELLS PRIORY —A DEFENDED MONASTERY IN COUNTY KILKENNY.” Archaeology Ireland, 2014. JSTOR,

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