1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kells

KELLS, a market town of county Meath, Ireland, on the Blackwater, 93/4 m. N.W. of Navan on a branch of the Great Northern railway. Pop. of urban district (1901), 2428. The prosperity of the town depends chiefly upon its antiquarian remains. The most notable is St Columbkille’s house, originally an oratory, but afterwards converted into a church, the chancel of which was in existence in 1752. The present church is modern, with the exception of the bell-tower, rebuilt in 1578. Near the church there is a fine though imperfect specimen of the ancient round tower, 99 ft. in height; and there are several ancient crosses, the finest being that now erected in the market-place. Kells was originally a royal residence, whence its ancient name Ceanannus, meaning the dun or circular northern fort, in which the king resided, and the intermediate name Kenlis, meaning head fort. Here Conn of the Hundred Fights resided in the 2nd century; and here was a palace of Dermot, king of Ireland, in 544–565. The other places in Ireland named Kells are probably derived from Cealla, signifying church. In the 6th century Kells, it is said, was granted to St Columbkille. Of the monastery which he is reported to have founded there are no remains, and the town owes its chief ecclesiastical importance to the bishopric founded about 807, and united to Meath in the 13th century. The ecclesiastical establishment was noted as a seat of learning, and a monument of this remains in the Book of Kells an illuminated copy of the Gospels in Latin, containing also local records, dating from the 8th century, and preserved in the library of Trinity College, Dublin. The illumination is executed with extraordinary delicacy, and the work is asserted to be the finest extant example of early Christian art of this kind. Neighbouring antiquities are the church of Dulane, with a fine doorway, and the dun or fortification of Dimor, the principal erection of a series of defences on the hills about 6 m. W. of Kells. Among several seats in the vicinity is that of the Marquess of Headfort. Kells returned two members to the Irish parliament before the Union.