Kells town & Monastic Sites:
About ten miles north west of Navan is the heritage town of Kells. In old Irish, Kells broadly means ‘great residence’ and High Kings of Ireland Conn Céadchatach, Conn of the Hundred Battles, and his grandson, Cormac mac Airt, are said to have kept their Royal residence there.
St Columba established a Christian settlement at Kells in 550 AD before exiling himself to Iona, off the coast of Scotland, in 563 AD. After the Iona settlement was repeatedly ravaged by Vikings, the settlers were granted lands to retreat to back in Kells. These monastic sites were completed around 814, and included a church, graveyard, large stone crosses, a familiar round tower, and a circular wall called a vallum that protected the holy world within from the dangerous world without.
By 878 AD, all the relics of St Columba had been returned from Iona, including the fabled Book of Kells, an ornate collection of the four gospels in Latin that now resides in Trinity College, Dublin. The church, four of the five original stone crosses and the round tower, minus its roof, still stand in the town. The Tower stands at more than 82 feet high, and the church is possibly the oldest building in the town. Four of the carved stone crosses sit in the churchyard, the fifth was in the centre of a crossroads until an accident with a bus necessitated its removal to a nearby courthouse.
The Pale used Kells as a border town from the 14th century onwards and it played host to several battles over that period, while the rebellion on 1641 saw Kells burned by the O’Reilly clan. The town, and its monastic heritage always survived, though.