Kells Priory is one of the largest and most impressive medieval structures in Ireland. This Augustine priory is located beside the village of Kells in County Kilkenny. One of the most noteworthy features is the collection of medieval tower houses spaced along the wall within the enclosure, which occupies a little more than 3 acres. White it was a place of worship, its appearance is more akin to a fortress from which its local name, “Seven Castles,” is derived.
In 1193 the Priory was founded by Geoffrey FitzRobert, the brother-in-law to Strongbow and succeeded an earlier church dedicated to St. Mary, serving as the parish church to the nearby village of Kells. Within the first 150 years of its existence it was attacked and burned three times, first in 1252 by Lord William de Bermingham, then by the Scots army on Palm Sunday in 1326 and then by a second William de Bermingham in 1327. The walls and fortifications are, therefore, thought to date to that period of unrest.
Following an inquisition into a Kilkenny sect of purported heretics, the Bishop of Ossory Richard de Ledrede paid the priory a Lenten visit and ordered Alice Kyteler and William Outlaw to appear to answer charges of witchcraft. However, supports of the accused facilitated the 17 day imprisonment of the Bishop by the Lord of Kells. Upon his release, though, the Bishop was able to successfully prosecute the heretics, one of whom was the first to burn at the stake in Ireland, the others manages to flee the country. The Dissolution of Kells Priory took place in March 1540 and the church and property were surrendered to James Butler, the 9th Earl of Ormonde.
If you plan to visit this site, and you should, there is plenty of parking and it is open to the public without a fee. Do note that the area surrounding the walls is home to a lovely flock of sheep, so do watch where you are stepping! We visited in the first two weeks of May and saw a lot of spring lambs which were absolutely adorable!