As we huddle and shiver our way through an Irish winter, it is a perfect time to recall the sunnier warmer lazier days of summer. At the winter solstice here in Ireland, we just about make 7 and a half hours of daylight, but in reality it seems much shorter under our wet leaden skies. Come January we can already see a ‘stretch’ in the evenings and we can look forward to the heady days of midsummer that stretch out to a magnificent 17 hours of daylight. The longer days of summer are great for taking day trips to discover unexplored parts of Ireland. As a native Irish person living in Ireland,the ‘hidden Ireland’ never ceases to amaze me. I am often reminded of an Irish Tourist Board television advertising campaign from some years ago, for the domestic market that had as a buyline: ‘You haven’t seen the half of it.’ I certainly have not, but I am working on it !
So to brighten these dark cold days, I am looking back at activities and intended posts that never saw the light of day. And where better to start than in the historic and very attractive little town of Kells in County Meath, possibly one of the oldest continuously settled places in Ireland. The name is familiar to many, because one of Ireland’s major cultural treasures and our most visited tourist attraction, The Book of Kells, takes its name from an Abbey in the town where it was kept for hundreds of years. The Book of Kells is a 9th Century elaborately illuminated manuscript of the 4 Gospels. (This wonderful treasure is on permanent display at Trinity College Library, Dublin, where it has been held since 1661, much to the chagrin of some of the Kells locals.)
There is far more to Kells than the Book it does not have, for it has some of the most striking and unique features of any town in Ireland, ranging from modern sculpture to Georgian buildings to ancient High Crosses and monastic remains. On the day I visited I was lucky enough to see much of what Kells has to offer.
Just behind the sculpture, which stands in the Parnell memorial garden, is a symmetrical building which turns out to be a pair of schools – one for boys, one for girls. These were built in 1840 by the generosity of Catherine Dempsey, who bequeathed her entire fortune to the education and clothing of poor children of the area.
Kells has some fine Georgian houses – many of which seem to be in use as private homes. I was particularly taken by some of the lovely door knockers!
Also in the main street is a very ornate drinking fountain, erected to the memory of a beloved spouse.
Away from the monastery, and in front of the Heritage Centre stands the Market Cross. Like the others, it is elaborately carved with scenes depicting various biblical themes. This cross was supposedly used as a gallows after the uprising of 1798.
My stop in Kells was a short but enjoyable one, and I am glad to have finally ‘discovered’ such a rich and impressive heritage. Kells is easily reached from almost any part of Ireland, is only 40 minutes from Dublin and should be a ‘must see’ for anyone interested in our rich heritage.
The Book of Kells can be viewed online here.