I recently visited Kells briefly as part of a brief road trip around archaeological sites in County Meath. Kells rules pretty ok for medieval archaeology and I just had to revisit the place.
Founded in the early 9th century by monks from Iona, Kells, Co. Meath, is famed for its eponymous manuscript (now in Trinity College Dublin; the manuscript came from Kells Abbey, even if it need not have been made there). It is equally renowned for its surviving five early medieval high crosses, round tower and oratory; traces of a once great monastic centre. There is also an amazing cemetery – St John’s – with later medieval effigy tomb and various fragmented gravestones.
The heritage signs are pretty good in Kells. I found one by the Market Cross, one by the church, both bilingual, are well-situated and give details of the likely dates and character of the early medieval religious centre. However, for me and my archaeodeath interests, the old St John’s cemetery between the two is by far the best. This last one was particularly striking as it is a rare instance where a full graveyard survey of the names and dates of gravestones, picking out those of particular antiquity and interest, can be found at the entrance to a post-medieval cemetery. Pure heritage pleasure: thanks Kells!
However, this blog wishes to equally celebrate the high concentration of heritage horrors in Kells. I noticed two particularly bad heritage allusions – both puns and underpinned by the choice of script to evoke the early medieval. There was also a great pizza place that might be regarded as awkward by some international visitors…
Three might not seem many, but it puts Kells into the premier league of heritage appropriations. Having said that, nowhere can rival the heritage pain and terror of Tintagel with its Camelot Hotel and Merlin and Arthur-themed pubs, cafes and shops.
Still, it begs the question: how many more heritage punned businesses are out there in the present-day landscapes of these islands?
Also, I noticed the most disturbing of early medieval lithic reinventions. While Irish cemeteries are full of replica high crosses used as a prevalent commemorative medium since the late 19th century, the water fountain in Kells is one of the most bizarre objects I’ve seen in its adaptations and proportions of early medieval crosses.
In summary, I love Kells, but it somewhat disturbed me too… A wonderful mix of heritage pleasure and pain.