-Kells History, Heritage & Culture
The Reawakening brings together an extensive list of top class local and international talent, with skilled storytellers and musicians primed to celebrate the very artistic traditions which have been so central to Irish heritage and culture since the time of our earliest ancestors; traditions which have carried the people of Kells through the highs and lows of our six thousand years of continued settlement. A history so deep as to be etched into the landscape , her beautiful hills and valleys seeped with the blood of her people and their relentless spirit of freedom, hope and determination.
In a fast changing world, our community is once again finding strength and optimism through these traditions; with the Hinterland Festival, Guth Gafa Film Festival, Kells Type Trail, Kells Printworks, Pride of Place, the long running Kells Musical and Dramatic Society, the world renowned Handball Club and the many other local clubs, projects and activities, - all paving new paths of social and economic opportunities to provide a secure and thriving future for our ancient settlement. There can be no better time to celebrate their hard work and the heritage of our most ancient town and hinterland.
Chris Murphy, a native of Kells, is a man fueled with passion for detailing its history. The following excerpts from his research highlight just where we are coming from and how our people's contributions are so befitting as part of this historic journey.
"For most, the cultural and historical significance of Kells begins and ends with the enlightened monastic period of the Ninth to Twelfth Centuries. Indeed, it was a time when our religious and secular fore-bearers played a notable part in Irish and European affairs, religious, cultural and political.
When the first influx of farmers cut down the forests around Kells and set up their homesteads more than six thousand years ago, little did they know they were laying the foundations for a settlement which, despite countless incredible challenges since then, flourishes to this very day; a settlement which has done so much to define our island’s culture and heritage which is today celebrated around the world.
The onset of the Bronze Age in Ireland around 2,500BC brought new settlers from the Iberian Peninsula and Mediterranean. Their kings sat in the royal residence perched atop the Hill of Lloyd, gazing out across their fertile lands, while each year the great and good of Ireland met two miles away at Teltown for the Tailteann Games. A celebration of our culture, art and music as much as sports, these games were last held the year before the arrival of the Normans, when records say the entourages of the chieftains stretched from Lloyd to Teltown, each trying to outdo the other in grandeur and showmanship.
By the first century AD, many regional chieftains were vying for the right of authority over all Ireland and so Meath was declared the fifth province of Ireland, the middle province, the province of power and authority; with the most powerful kings in Ireland choosing the River Blackwater as their primary residence. Tara was made the seat of political power, but Kells was still where the craic was. Unsurprisingly, many important kings and queens are buried in Kells and its close vicinity, including Niall of the Nine Hostages himself.
When contemporary records began around fifteen hundred years ago, the Hill of Lloyd marked the crossing point from the Southern O’Neill’s powerbase to their Northern cousins’ territory; even today, it marks the border of the provinces of Leinster and Ulster, the very territories of these ancient High Kings.
Already one of Ireland’s most important places when Irish Christianity began to flower in the
Sixth Century, there were several important religious communities here long before the Columbans began building here in 807AD; the intertwinement of religion and politics meant Kells was host and educator to many important foreign dignitaries from the Seventh to Twelfth Century.
The Vikings of Dublin saw Kells as rich pickings and they, and native alike, plundered and pillaged the town and monastery countless times, yet never shut it down, such was its national importance. When the Normans arrived they made it one of the Pale’s most fortified border posts; made subject to some of England’s bloodiest and most ruthless nobles, its inhabitant suffered through an almost constant cycle of famine, disease and war for hundreds of years to follow.
Yet, Kells persevered, its importance to the Irish never forgotten, and it was at Kells the native Irish chieftains and Anglo-Irish lords of Ireland united to receive the church’s blessing to declare war on England’s King Charles in 1642. Through this war, Cromwell’s Plantation, the Penal Laws and the Great Hunger, the locals clung tightly to their ancient heritage and held their resolve; the people of Kells and its local farming communities amongst the most committed rebels in Ireland’s fight for freedom, with famous names like Grattan, O’Connell, Parnell and Davitt all synonymous with Kells.
The time has come to acknowledge and celebrate our community’s unique heritage. It’s time to open our doors to the world and show it all of our riches. It’s time for The Reawakening".
The upcoming Kells Reawakening Concert marks the launch of a new conceptual marketing initiative titled “The Fifth Province”. The aim is to promote the arts, culture heritage, education, enterprise, sports and tourism in the North East, drawing from the amazing energy and drive stemming at grassroots level within Kells. It’s an ideal opportunity to celebrate the incredible local talent coming from the Kells area. Over the past 100 years, a huge diaspora of Kells people have left home and achieved so much on an international scale – as artists, musicians, academics, business people and politicians. They, along with local residents and the very successful community activists / groups are joining forces to celebrate our people, culture and heritage.