|intro - history 1 2 3 4 5 - tour - plans - photos - links - news|
|The Augustian Canons
The manors making up Geoffrey's new lordships brought with them the churches and tithes of the newly-created Anglo-Norman parishes to which they corresponded. Custom demanded that Geoffrey relinquish these. This was usually done through the foundation of a monastery to which churches and tithes could be assigned - an act also beneficial to the founder's soul. The popular Cistercian Order, founders of nearby Jerpoint Abbey (Fig. 1C), were not permitted to accept churches or tithes, or to be positioned close to towns or castles. Their demand for isolation and independence, commonly for a relatively large establishment, necessitated sizeable land and property grants. This tended to confine their foundation to the greater barons.
In contrast, the Augustinian Order (its members known as Austin Canons, or Black Canons after the colour of their habits) were willing to accept churches and tithes. Unlike most monks they were fully ordained and were permitted to serve as parish priests. In fact, the Augustinian Order had its origins in eleventh century attempts to regularise and bring discipline to bodies of canons serving the larger urban churches and cathedrals (hence their other title of Regular Canons). They were content with smaller houses supported by parish tithes rather than large land grants and they often permitted their founder to retain a measure of influence in the running of the priory.
Consequently the Austin Canons were the popular choice for the religious foundations of lesser lords and by the early fourteenth century half of the taxable churches and chapels in Ireland were in Augustinian hands. On the advice and with the consent of William Marshall, the Austin canons were the natural choice for Geoffrey.
The dates are a little confused but Kells Priory was most probably founded by Geoffrey fitz Robert in 1193. It succeeded an earlier collegiate church founded in 1183 and dedicated to St Kieran (after the founder of a much older church here). This first church was served by four secular priests, apparently because there were no English Austin canons in Ireland at the time. The foundation of St Kieran's was confirmed by the then bishop of Ossory, Felix O'Dulaney. St Kieran's was dissolved in 1193 when Geoffrey recruited and brought four Austin canons over from Bodmin Priory in Cornwall and founded the present priory. (An alternative chronology has St Kieran's founded in 1193 and the canons arriving a few years later, perhaps in 1198).
The original charter from Geoffrey, granting lands and privileges to the priory, was re-issued and confirmed on several occasions beginning in 1204. In 1391 and again in 1411-12 all grants were confirmed by King Richard II and by King Henry IV respectively.
Foundation of the priory was a joint venture between Geoffrey and his new neighbours, the lords of Knocktopher and Erley, respectively Mathew fitz Griffin and Baldwin de Hamptonsford or his successor John de Erley, with Geoffrey retaining a majority interest. The priory received only a modest land grant of about 1,700 acres. This principally comprised Kellsgrange and Killinny townlands, separate and on the north bank of King's River, and the area of the townlands of Rathduff on the south side of the river around the priory - all in the parish of Kells. In addition it included Dysart near Thomastown.
Of much greater value was the assignment between 1193 and 1260 of the tithes from forty-two churches and chapels: one quarter coming from Geoffrey's cantreds of Kells and Grean, and from the parish of Dysart; somewhat more from fitz Griffin's cantred of Knocktopher and from other parishes under his jurisdiction in Carlow, Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Wexford; those from the cantred of Erley; and several from individual parishes in Kilkenny and Tipperary.