Kells Round Tower
At a Glance
County Meath
OS Map 42
OS Coordinate N 740 758
Condition full height but without cap
Height 26 m
Doorway Type arched
Window Type 4 lintelled, 5 angle-headed
Number of Windows 9
Ground to Doorway 3.6 m
Distinguishing Features five bell storey windows/ sculpted heads flanking doorway
Traditional Association St. Columcille
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Kells Round Tower Co. Meath

North facing middle window Information North facing door and middle window North facing door North facing door North facing door
North facing middle window North facing middle window

Kells Round Tower - Ceannanas (White head)
County Meath
O.S. Map 42

Location: On R 163 in the center of Kells town, just west of the intersection of N3 and N52 is St. Columba's Church of Ireland whose cemetery contains the round tower, several high crosses and nearby, an ancient oratory said to be the house of St. Columcille. The town of Kells is situated on the N3, 60km northwest of Dublin in the historic Boyne Valley.

Dimensions: The churchyard wall bisects the tower, so that the doorway half is in the raised cemetery and the street side is fully 2 meters lower. On the street side there is an offset (more like a plinth) of approx. 1 meter. From the base of the offset to the capless top of the tower is just over 26 meters. Because the ground level in the cemetery has been raised at some point, the north-facing doorway appears much lower than it must have originally been. From the street side offset, the doorway is 3.6 meters above the original base. Circumference above the offset is approx. 15m. There are four small lintelled windows in the drum, facing (from bottom to top) SSW, ESE, N, and WNW.

Features: The bell storey windows of the tower are unusual in that there are five of them, rather than the usual four. Only Kildare round tower has this unusual configuration. Instead of the cardinal compass points, these angle-headed windows are said to have faced the five roads into Kells. Evenly spaced, they face ENE, SE, SSW, W and NNW. The doorway is presently just under 2m from the ground level in the cemetery. It has a three stone arch, two extending the entire depth of the doorway. The arch and some of the jambstones have a faint flat moulding. The keystone of the arch appears to have been prepared for some carving, as it has been worked to a noticeable protrusion though without decoration. Flanking the doorway are two projections. The left appears to be a carved head - at least in shape - though so thoroughly weathered that no features remain. The right jamb also has a projection, though what carving, if any, was originally there is no longer identifiable, even by shape.

Comments: This site is a rich collection of artifacts. In addition to the round tower and high crosses, there are unusual headstones from the 18th century , an ancient sundial, and the spire on the bell tower dating from 1783, according to its stone-carved plaque. The "Unfinished Cross" gives insight into how the great high crosses may have been carved.

History: The site, purportedly an ancient royal fort, is said to have been given to St. Columba by Dermot MacCarvill around the year 550. Monks, chased from Iona by the Vikings came to Kells in 804. The settlement was burned and pillaged repeatedly over several centuries. The annals mention the murder of a new high king in the tower in 1076. Drawings from the late 18th century show the tower much as it is today.

Other Items of Interest:The circular monastic enclosure protects St. Columba's Church, the round tower and four of the town's five high crosses. Nearby, St. Colmcilles' House is strategically positioned at one of the highest points in the town. It once housed the relics of the Saint and the 9th century Book of Kells. A full interpretation of the monastic history is available in Kells Heritage Centre, which displays a facsimile of the Book of Kells and a museum. The market cross of Kells has been restored after several accidents damaged it in its original location and resides under a protective plexiglas roof just outside the Heritage Center. Tourist information, a coffee shop and gift shop are also available here. Kells Heritage Festival takes place annually in the first week in June.

  © 2004-2005 F.J. & K.D. Schorr - All rights reserved.