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The Lost Town of Kells, Kilkenny



For many years it was believed that most of the medieval town of Kells was self-contained within the Burgess Court of Kells Priory. Through aerial surveying undertaken by Simon Dowling, we now know this not to be the case. By examining the earthworks in the picture above, a streetscape is evident.

Unfortunately not much is known about the town or it's demise but the Down Survey Map (c.1650) places 3 or 4 tower houses on the site during this time. 'William Marshal and Ireland' puts the number of burgage plots in 1346 at 71, based on the number of rents collected. Some of the street names are known, such as "mid-street" which appears in the Ormond Deeds and "Common Street".

It is also likely that there was a settlement on the site of the present village. In the mid-20th century, at the current garage, oil tanks were hoisted into two recesses that were believed to be there for hundreds of years, suggesting a streetscape. It is also said by locals that there was a tunnel running from this spot towards the priory.


The lost town of Kells is one a number in the area, including; Early (6 minutes away), Stonecarthy (7 minutes away), and of course 'The Lost Town of Newtown Jerpoint', 10 minutes away. To have four in such close proximity is quite unusual.

A survey of Jerpoint was commissioned by the Heritage Council in 2007 with it only recently opening to the public in 2011. Since then, it has become an ever-growing tourist destination. The same could happen for 'The Lost Town of Kells'.

We would expect that there is a lot of information still locked away in the ground and that an archaeological investigation would uncover the story of the town. It is hoped that sometime in the near future, ground-penetrating radar can be used to survey the site to identify suitable areas for an archaeological dig.

In the picture below, the priory (right) and the lost town (left) can be seen:


Click here for a hillshade animation on the site

The Market Cross

The only surviving remnant of the town is it's Market Cross. This lies in the same field as the pictures above and lies in the centre of what is believed to be the main street. This would have been an important landmark around which much trade would have taken place. It no longer holds it's pillar, nor cross and there is no knowledge to the design of either. According to 'History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory', the base is now only "a few yards distant from the spot on which it was first set up many centuries ago" and the aerial photography backs this up. This strengthens our belief that this was indeed the main street of the lost town.

The cross was erected after the English had taken possession of the town to mark 'The Exaltation of the Holy Cross' on the 14th of September, the chief festival of Kells. Although it is unclear when the cross was removed, we do know that it survived Cromwell's visit having appeared in the 'Down Survey of Ireland'.

From the 3D model below which was kindly created for us by Simon Dowling, we were able to view details surrounding the base of the cross that were not visible with the naked eye. We were surprised to find traces of carvings still survive on the pedestal, leading us to believe that the cross may have been very ornate. Our initial observation is that the weathered carvings appear to portray a number of birds, but this will require further analysis.

The round base is an unusual feature and there are few surviving examples, another being an 8th century high cross not too far away in Kilkieran, Kilkenny.

For more info on Kells, see Historic Kells


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