The Augustine priory of Kells is situated alongside King's River beside the village of Kells, about 15km south of the medieval city of Kilkenny. One of its most striking features is a collection of medieval tower houses spaced at intervals along and within walls which enclose a site of just over 3 acres. These give the priory the appearance more of a fortress than of a place of worship and from them comes its local name of 'Seven Castles of Kells'.
Kells Priory was founded by Geoffrey FitzRobert in 1193. FitzRobert was brother-in-law to Strongbow and the priory succeeded an earlier church which was dedicated to St Mary, the Blessed Virgin and served as parish church to nearby Kells village. During its first century and a half the priory was attacked and burned on three occasions. It seems likely then that the walls and fortifications date back to this period of unrest.
In 1324 the Bishop of Ossory Richard de Ledrede paid a lenten visit to the priory. Following an inquisition into a Kilkenny sect of heretics, Alice Kyteler and William Outlawe were ordered to appear before the Bishop to answer charges of witchcraft. Outlaw was supported by Arnold de Paor, Lord of Kells who arrested the Bishop and had him imprisoned in Kilkenny Castle for 17 days. This caused great scandal and on his release the Bishop successfully prosecuted the heretics. Alice Kyteler fled to England and remained there.
Dissolution of Kells Priory finally took place in March 1540 and the church and property were surrendered to James Butler, 9th Earl of Ormonde.
The existing extensive ruin mostly dates from the 14th and 15th centuries. It consists of a church, a chapel, prior's residence or sacristy and a number of domestic buildings, all standing on an enclosed site of some 4 acres.
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