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St Columba's Church of Ireland, Kells

Kells, County Meath is located in Ireland
Location in Ireland
Coordinates: 53°43′38″N 6°52′37″W / 53.7272, -6.8769Coordinates: 53°43′38″N 6°52′37″W / 53.7272, -6.8769
Country Ireland
Province Leinster
County County Meath
Elevation 66 m (217 ft)
Population (2011)[1]
 • Total 5,888
Irish Grid Reference N738759

Kells ( /ˈkɛlz/; Irish: Ceanannas)[2] is a town in County Meath, Ireland. The town lies off the M3 motorway, 16 km (10 mi) from Navan and 65 km (40 mi) from Dublin. It is best known as the site of Kells Abbey, from which the Book of Kells takes its name.


The settlement was originally known by the Irish name Ceannanas or Ceannanus, and it is suggested that the name 'Kells' developed from this.[3] From the 12th century onward, the settlement was referred to in English and Anglo-Norman as Kenenus, Kenelles, Kenles, Kenlis, Kellis and finally Kells.[3] It has also been suggested that Kenlis and Kells come from an alternative Irish name, Ceann Lios, meaning "[the] head fort". Kells, Kenlis and Headfort all feature in the titles taken by the Taylor family.

In 1929, Ceannanus Mór was made the town's official name in both Irish and English.[3] Following the creation of the Irish Free State, a number of towns were renamed likewise. Ceanannas has been the official Irish-language form of the place name since 1969.[4] In 1993, Kells was re-adopted as the town's official name in English.[5]


Folio 34r of the Book of Kells is illustrated with the Chi Rho monogram

The monastery at Kells is thought to have been founded around 804 A.D. by monks from St Colmcille's monastery in Iona who were fleeing Viking invasions.

In 1152, the Synod of Kells completed the transition of the Colmcille's establishment from a monastic church to a diocesan church. A later synod reduced the status of Kells to that of a parish. Following the Norman invasion of Ireland, Hugh de Lacy was granted the Lordship of Meath in 1182. The religious establishments at Kells continued to flourish under their Anglo-Norman overlords.

Kells became a border town garrison of the Pale and was the scene of many battles, between Bréifne Irish and Hiberno-Normans, both of whom had heavily intermarried. From 1561 to 1800 Kells returned two Members of Parliament. During the rebellion of 1641, Kells was burned by the O'Reilly clan during their attacks on the pale.

The period of the Great Famine saw the population of Kells drop by 38% as measured by the census records of 1841 and 1851. The Workhouse and the Fever Hospital were described as full to overflowing.

Places of interest[]

  • The Abbey of Kells, with its round tower, is associated with St Colmcille (also known as Columba), the Book of Kells, now kept at Trinity College Dublin and the Kells Crozier, exhibited at the British Museum. The round tower and five large Celtic crosses can still be viewed today. Four of the crosses are in the churchyard of St Columba's church. The other Celtic cross was positioned in the middle of a busy crossroads until an accident involving a school bus. It now stands in front of a former courthouse. A roof protects the cross from the elements. Curiously, a replica is completely safe from the elements inside the museum.

Kells round tower dates from the 10th century

  • Close by the graveyard of St. Columba's church stands a small stone roofed Oratory (St. Colmcille's House). This probably dates from the 11th century. Access to the monks' sleeping accommodation aloft is by ladder. This small rectangular building is positioned at one of the highest points in the town. The Oratory is kept locked, but visitor access can be arranged.
  • Just outside the town of Kells on the road to Oldcastle is the hill of Lloyd, named after Thomas Lloyd of Enniskillen, who camped a large Williamite army here during the wars of 1688-91 against the Jacobites. Here also stands an interesting towering building called the Tower of Lloyd, which is an 18th-century lighthouse folly in the form of a giant Doric column, surmounted by glazed lantern, erected to the memory of Thomas Taylor, 1st Earl of Bective, by his son. The tower is around 30 m (100 ft) high. From the top one can see magnificent views of the surrounding countryside as far as the Mourne mountains in County Down, Northern Ireland on a clear day. The tower was used to view horse racing and the hunt in the nineteenth century. The plaque on the tower reads: 'This pillar was designed by Henry Aaron Baker Esq. architect was executed by Mr. Joseph Beck stone cutter Mr. Owen Mc Cabe head mason Mr. Bartle Reilly overseer Anno 1791'. The area around the tower has been developed as a community park (The People's Park), and includes the Paupers' Grave. This cemetery was a necessity in the times of great poverty in the country. Mass is still celebrated there annually and the cemetery is a grim reminder of the Workhouse and extreme poverty engendered by changes in farming practice in the 19th century and during the Famine.


The population of Kells town (according to the official 2011 Census of Population) stands at 5,888 persons. This represents a slight increase in population over the 2006 Census. There was a 24.8% increase in total population between 1996 and 2002.


Until the opening of the new motorway in June 2010, Kells stood as a busy junction town on the old N3 road with over 18,000 vehicles passing through the town each day. Kells was a renowned traffic bottleneck from both the N3 national primary route (Dublin, Cavan, Enniskillen and Ballyshannon) and N52 national secondary route (Dundalk, Tullamore and Nenagh) passing though the town centre. The new M3 motorway significantly reduces the journey time to Dublin, as well as the numbers of vehicles in the town.

  • The M3 motorway (opened June 2010) and a nearby toll plaza charges €1.40 each way. A second toll plaza closer to Dublin charges the same amount, meaning that the whole M3, costs €5.20 for a return journey to Dublin.
  • Kells is served by a regular bus service from Bus Éireann which takes about 1.5 hours to Busáras in Dublin.
  • Meath on Track[6] are seeking reinstatement of the Navan railway link, and on to Dublin. It is estimated that a Kells to Dublin City Centre rail service would take approximately 60 minutes depending on stops.
  • The original Kells railway station, serving a line between Oldcastle and Drogheda via Navan, opened on 11 July 1853. It was closed for passenger traffic on 14 April 1958 and finally for all traffic on 1 April 1963.[7]
  • The Butcher Boy was filmed at Headfort House
  • The Secret of Kells is an Oscar nominated animated film set in Kells
  • The World Famous Hollywood Star, Maureen O'Hara is a native. Her father Charles came from the town. Although Maureen grew up in Dublin. He came from a house at the bottom of Farrell Street in the town. The buildings now houses a supermarket and carpet shop along with apartments. She visited the town on 26 May 2012 to receive the freedom of the town and to unveil a bust in her honour.
  • Jim Connell of Crossakiel b. 1852, Kells wrote the Socialist anthem "The Red Flag"
  • Dick Farrelly Songwriter most famous for his song, The "Isle of Innisfree", 1952 hit for Bing Crosby and theme of the film, "The Quiet Man".
  • Irish indie rock bands Ham Sandwich and Turn

  • Kells Road Races is a motorcycling event held each year at Crossakiel, Kells. Each year the event is held at the spectacular and exciting 2.2 mile Crossakiel Circuit, and has attracted tens of thousands of spectators each year to the area. Spectators and participants are always welcome.
  • Damien McGrane b. 1971 professional golfer is a Kells man.
  • Munster Rugby full back Denis Hurley was born and bred in Kells.

See also[]

  • Kells, County Antrim, a village in Northern Ireland
  • List of towns and villages in Ireland
  • Market Houses in Ireland


  1. ^ "Census 2006 – Volume 1 – Population Classified by Area" (PDF). Central Statistics Office Census 2006 Reports. Central Statistics Office Ireland. April 2007. Retrieved 2011-06-08. 
  2. ^ For most of the 20th century the town's official name was Ceanannas Mór. In the late 20th century the town reverted to the more widely known English version of its name, Kells, and dropped Mór from the Irish version of the name.
  3. ^ a b c Placenames Database of Ireland (see archival records)
  4. ^ Logainm placenames database of Ireland (in Irish)
  5. ^ S.I. No. 156/1993 - Local Government (Change of Name of Urban District) Order, 1993. Irish Statute Book.
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Kells station" (PDF). Railscot - Irish Railways. Retrieved 2007-10-16. 

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This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia. The original content was at Kells, County Meath. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with this Familypedia wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons License.