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    The cloister garth at the centre with its ambulatories (surrounding covered alleys) occupy the angle between the nave and the south transept of the church. They were the preserve of the canons, devoted to quiet study and prayer between periods of worship and work. Totally enclosed by the church and the three claustral ranges, the cloister would have been a genuinely tranquil place.

Daily routine

The life of the priory was organized around the Office, a daily liturgical cycle also known as the Hours. The timetable of the Office varied with the varying length of the day throughout the year.
The day began at two o'clock with assembly in church for Vigils (or Nocturns) followed by Matins (shortened following the introduction of daily Eucharistic Mass). At dawn they reassembled for Lauds followed immediately, or at six o'clock if dawn was much earlier, by Prime (dropped after daily mass was introduced). Terce was at about nine o'clock. Noon Sext was followed by Eucharistic Mass and None (or Nones). At about half past four in the afternoon they came together again for Vespers. The Office concluded at about six o'clock with Compline after which they retired for the night. Most orders spent around four hours daily at worship but the Austin Rule allowed a less protracted daily Office.
The day included only one substantial meal, either before or after Vespers. The remainder of the day was divided between administrative duties, physical work (the only time most orders permitted monks to leave the cloister), study and prayer. The small numbers at Kells must have led to the canons spending more time than was usual on administrative and parochial duties. In the second half of the fifteenth century they also became so deeply embroiled in priory and diocesan politics that even worship suffered.

Cloister arcade and ambulatories (26)

The cloister garth is square with broad ambulatories around its four sides. Only the base of the walls separating garth and ambulatories survives today, with buttresses at the centre of each wall and in the four corners. The garth served as a vegetable or herb garden in some monasteries and as a cemetery in others and was probably not simply grassed over as in
Figure 4.
A row of stone corbels preserved high on the walls of church and ranges where they rise to their original height supported a penthouse roof covering the ambulatories. A thin flagstone course above them marks the roof-line. The lower of two rows of square holes below the corbels was probably for roof-supporting beams. Both the west and north ambulatories have built-in stone benches along the length of their inside walls, where the canons could sit and study. Two niches for tombs are recessed into the church wall at the northeast corner of the cloister
Recent excavations recovered many fragments of the arcade which separated the ambulatories from the cloister garth. Unlike most Irish cloister arcades it does not have 'dumb-bell' colonettes (two colonettes in one piece, joined by a narrow neck, like those in nearby Jerpoint). 'Dumb-bell' colonettes became the norm after 1390 so the arcade at Kells dates from earlier in the fourteenth century. Kells arcade had slender twin colonettes which supported trefoil (three-lobed) arches. The colonette bases and capitals were carved from limestone and had foliage and dogtooth ornament (rows of small pyramids of four petals). The arches were decorated with bowtell moulding, slender nearly cylindrical ribs around the edges.
Excavation in the ambulatories during 1972 identified a variable original surface, made up of hard lime-mortar in some places and of pebble cobbling in others.

Claustral ranges

The claustral ranges are a little better preserved than those around the outer court, only the west range being reduced to its foundations. Each had two floors and both the east and south ranges still rise to their full height in places, giving a good idea of their original appearance.
When imagining the rooms in the claustral ranges as they were, it should be remembered that windows were glazed and leaded, and walls were plastered and whitewashed. More important rooms, like the chapter house and the refectory might have had stained glass and colourful mural paintings. Furniture would have been sparse and of simple design and in the evenings the rooms were illuminated by candles and flaming rush torches.

The East Range

The east range extends from the south transept of the church to the reredorter. The ground floor was divided into a series of chambers whereas the dorter (dormitory) occupied the whole 23m length of the upper floor.
A wide passage from the cloister to the east Precinct and Prior's Tower occupies the space next to the transept on the ground floor. This passage probably also served as an inner parlour
(27) w where the rule of silence was relaxed for necessary conversation. A short stone bench is built against the centre of the south wall. A gap in the west wall replaces the original doorway and there was a window beside the door to Prior's Tower.
The Inner parlour is also likely to have been the original sacristy and vestry18 where the church ornaments, altar vessels and vestments were kept. These were transferred to Prior's Tower in the late fifteenth century, but may already have moved into the south transept if its separation from the crossing was earlier.
The chapter house
Beside the inner parlour is the chapter house, the most important room in the priory after the church. Prior and canons assembled here daily before noon. They read a chapter of the Rule (hence the name), heard confessions, commemorated their benefactors and generally conducted the business of the priory.
Kells has a small chapter house, only as deep as the east range (unlike in many monasteries where the chapter house extends beyond it to the east). It is entered through a wide round-headed doorway flanked by two round-headed windows and has surviving stone benches along the length of both sides. The prior would have been seated at the east end on a raised dais, possible fragments of which remain in the southeast corner. He would have given up his seat for the diocesan bishop during a visitation. The floor was almost certainly ornately tiled and the room was not vaulted (the arch built high into the west wall is just a stress-relieving arch).

Day-stairs and a warming room

The narrow chamber immediately south of the chapter house is most likely the site of the day-stairs (29) which provided access to the dorter above. Besides this, it serves as a vestibule for the room to the south.
The latter room has a bay mid-way along the east wall, probably for a large fireplace. The fireplace was the central feature of the priory warming room
(30) since it was the only room (other than the kitchen and infirmary) where a fire was kept burning during the winter months. A stone bench is built against the north wall, with access from the vestibule over its western end. One of two openings in the west wall might have provided another entry. A door at the east end of the south wall admits to the reredorter and another at the opposite end communicates through a small chamber with the passage between the outer court and the Precinct to the east.

(c) Daniel Tietzsch-Tyler