Archaeologists at St Columcilles House

Archaeologists from ACS have been appointed to carry out works at the site of St Columcille’s House in Kells Co. Meath on behalf of the Office of Public Works. Kells or Ceanannus (meaning head residence), was established in the ninth century AD by Columban monks fleeing their monastery on the island of Iona, although traditionally it was believed that the monastery was founded by St. Columcille in the sixth century. Following a series of devastating Viking attacks on Iona, beginning approximately AD 795 and culminating with the massacre of sixty-eight members of the community in AD 806, the abbot and the remaining monks established themselves at Kells, at a site that allegedly functioned as a former royal centre known as Dún Chúile Sibhrinne.  The community thrived and became a major patron of art and craftsmanship, as well as a place of education, refuge and trade. Kells remained the chief monastery of Columcille until superseded by Derry in the twelfth century.

The modern layout of the town preserves the northern and eastern extents of the monastic enclosure by the line of Fair Green, Carrick Street, Castle Street and Cross Street. The enclosure appears originally to have measured 360m east–west by 280m north–south, or approximately 9.5 hectares in area. Angret Simms has argued that an inner enclosure may be partially delimited by Church Lane, Church Street and Canon Street. A number of buildings and monuments survive from this period including the round tower, the Cross of Patrick and Columba, the Market Cross and St. Columcille’s House. St. Mary’s Abbey was a separate establishment, founded circa 1140 on the orders of St. Malachy and closely associated with the Arroasian Abbey at Clonard.

 St Colmcilles House Kells Co Meath

St Columcille’s house or oratory dates from the 10th century, this stone oratory may have been built to house the relics of St. Columcille. The roof is barrel vaulted with 3 small chambers in the roof space. There was no mortar originally used in the building of the house, having been constructed of stacked and angled stones, an amazing feat of early architecture. The existence of an underground passage from St. Columcille’s House to St. Columba’s church is mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters and in the 17th century Down Survey. Local tradition supports the existence of such a passage. Columcille’s House is the place where the world-famous "Book of Kells" was probably finished and kept before being removed to the porticus of Columba's church on the monastic site.