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|OCCUPATION OF BURGESS COURT
Although Burgess Court is little more than an open field today it must have been a busy place in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries - even when not fulfilling its defensive role. This activity would not have been confined to the duties of the priory garrison, nor to threatening times.
Priory mills and farms
The farm which worked the priory land south of King's River was probably situated close to the priory and its mill (7). The mill itself has gone but for its north wall (with two openings, at least the eastern one original) and traces of its east and west walls where they once projected across the millstream from the Precinct (Figure 8). The mill was the only stone structure in Burgess Court so whatever farm buildings there were must have been of timber. Both mill and farm would have remained outside the priory walls until enclosed within Burgess Court, sometime after 1450.
Farm buildings in the Court after that date might have included barns and granaries, stables (two in 1540),1 a bull-pen and various store-sheds. There would have been carts and wagons. These are divided between two timber-fenced yards in Figure 4, one beside West Tower and the other, including the mill, alongside the millstream. A large cattle pen is fenced off in the southwest corner. So, Burgess Court would have been the work-place of farm labourers and managers, stable-hands, grooms and perhaps a smith, and the miller and his assistants. Those without houses in the town might also have dwelt on the farm in Burgess Court.
The priory lands in Killinny and Kellsgrange, on the opposite bank of King's River, would have been worked from at least one, and probably two, outlying farms or granges - as indicated by the townland name. Both were also associated with priory mills (Figure 1B).
The priory as guesthouse
In addition Burgess Court would have seen the daily coming and going of guests lodging in the priory. Like most medieval monasteries, Kells Priory will have served as overnight guesthouse for all manner of travellers. On average guests made up one sixth of a monastery's population.
Important visitors are likely to have preferred the privacy of the priory guesthouse to the bustle and noise of a hostelry in the town, particularly if travelling with their families. Accompanied by personal servants, a secretary and grooms for their horses, they might have formed quite sizeable parties. They would have paid for their accommodation. At the opposite end of the spectrum, poor travellers arriving in Kells at nightfall without money to pay for a room in the town would have taken advantage of the priory's charity for a meal and a bed.
Alarm - smoke on the horizon!
Burgess Court would have been busiest when fulfilling the role for which it was built. At the first threat of serious trouble - perhaps the smoke of burning dwellings in the middle distance - all the cattle in the district would have been brought into the safety of the Court. If the threat was serious enough, the burgesses of Kells and their outlying neighbours would also have left their homes and sought sanctuary there. With them, they would take what they could carry: craftsmen and farmers, their tools; merchants, their more valuable wares and their money; women, irreplaceable domestic items perhaps. The small garrison would have been mobilised and sent to defend the walls and to close and bar the gates. They would have been supported by a militia formed by the local men. Such a scene is illustrated in Figure 4, though with far fewer people and much less activity probably than were there in reality.
(c) Daniel Tietzsch-Tyler