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THE MONASTIC PRECINCT
|At just under 0.55 hectares (1.33 acres) the Monastic Precinct is slightly
smaller than Burgess Court (Figure
8). The main entrance into the Precinct is through an Inner
Gatehouse west of the centre of the south curtain wall. This provided direct access from Burgess Court to the priory
store-house, the kitchen and the refectory for suppliers and visitors. Smaller gates provided for entry from the
east, the west and the river to the north.
The west end of the south curtain wall has a crenellated parapet, and this wall and a short length over the east gate also have wall-walks. Only a few arrow slits pierce the curtain, mostly in the south wall. Six buttresses also support the outer face of the south curtain. Water Tower, overlooking the Inner Gatehouse, is the most formidable of five strongpoints which formerly reinforced the curtain (Figure 8). The others are Postern Tower, Watergate Tower, Belfry Tower and the bastion at the southwest corner. Two towers also stand within the Precinct: that over the church Crossing and Prior's Tower alongside the presbytery.
The cloister and enclosing ranges are situated in the preferred position south of the church,1718 close to the centre of the Precinct. The church occupies much of the north half of the Precinct and is aligned east-west. The infirmary, kitchen and a workshop were arranged around an outer courtyard squeezed between the claustral ranges and the Precinct curtain (Figure 8). A small bridge must have crossed the millstream west of Burgess Court for the parishioners of Kells to reach the church (not shown in Figure 4 but probably similar to the one shown crossing the stream east of the Court).
THE SOUTHWEST PRECINCT
The Precinct is reached from Burgess Court across a two-arched millstream bridge with a low parapet on the west side. A high wall on the east side is connected to the southwest corner of Water Tower, enclosing a small rectangular space (Figure 5). The Inner Gatehouse is so like the Outer Gatehouse that it must be a fifteenth century replacement for an earlier gate. The adjacent, fifteenth century Water Tower also probably replaces an earlier tower, perhaps similar to Postern Tower alongside the gate in the east wall of the Precinct.
The Inner Gatehouse (9)
The Inner Gatehouse projects only slightly into Burgess Court. It is wider than the bridge and is carried out beyond it to both west and east on stone corbels. The 2m deep gate passage is entered through a broad round-headed arch, with hanging eyes for two tall gates preserved inside it. A segmentally arched vault over the passage forms the floor for a roof-top fighting platform. The gatehouse parapet is missing so whether it was crenellated like the adjacent wall is unknown. The platform appears to have been reached by a stone staircase built against the north wall of Water Tower (Figure 5).
A short flight of steps descends westward from the gatehouse roof to the wall-walk a couple of metres below. An arrow slit pierces the parapet alongside the steps and another is set in a deep embrasure in the wall below. The curtain here (10) has seen modern restoration but crenellation appears to be a feature of it in a pre-restoration drawing.1 The crenellation comprises 3.75m wide and 1.8m high merlons, each with a central arrow slit, separated by 0.8m deep and 0.3m wide embrasures (called crenels). This wall may have been newly built as part of the fifteenth century building programme.
|Southwest Precinct Bastion (11)
The western end of the crenellated wall juts out slightly into Burgess Court as the end wall of a building forming the corner of the Precinct (Figure 8). The west wall of this building also forms part of the Precinct curtain and retains the thickness of the south wall. The wall-walk continues at the same height on the west wall, but the parapet steps up 1.5m with only a single arrow slit alongside the corner.
The thicker curtain walls at this corner of the Precinct appear to form a bastion, an additional strongpoint which was open to the Precinct. The heightened west wall overlooks and commands both the arch where the millstream enters Burgess Court and the path between Kells and the priory church. Each would have been a potential weakness if the priory were attacked.
A row of drainage holes above a flagstone course in the outer face of the west wall drained both the flagged wall-walk and the roof of the building in the bastion. This was a long, rather low structure with its roof concealed behind the high walls of the bastion (unlike its depiction in Figure 4!). The building has an arched recess in the south wall and a large, dome-vaulted square structure close to the northeast corner.
The latter structure was a bread oven (without the chimney in Figure 4!), making it probable that the building \vithin the bastion was the priory bake-house and brew-house (written communication received in November 1993 from Conleth Manning, Senior Archaeologist with OPW. He also writes that tiles would have been made in temporary kilns constructed for particular commissions, rendering the suggestion of a tile factory - the interpretation for this building in the explanation for Figures 7 and 8 - anachronistic).
The marked irregularity of the Precinct's plan suggests something else too. Maybe the bake-house/brew-house originally lay outside the priory altogether, and was only brought into the Precinct during fifteenth century re-fortification. This would have allowed the original western perimeter of the priory to have followed a direct course from the church towards the Inner Gatehouse, making a smaller, nearly square Precinct. A straight course of stones occurs on just such a line a few yards into the precinct (13) - perhaps the foundation of the early perimeter.
(c) Daniel Tietzsch-Tyler