As well as once being home to an illuminated manuscript, Kells was a royal residence of the High Kings of Tara.
The town’s layout retains some of its monastic settlement heritage, including three high crosses that stand in the churchyard of St Columba’s, says tour guide and shopkeeper Lucy Reilly. She runs the Kells Experience gift shop and as a guide takes visitors on tours of the monastic site for €5. The fact that she also runs after-dark full-moon tours is just one indication that there is more to this town than meets the eye.
Historically, visitors to the town were mainly heritage hounds interested in its monastic past. But Hay Festival Kells, an offshoot of the so-called “Woodstock of the mind” literary festival, and Guth Gafa, an annual international documentary film festival, have helped to broaden the town’s appeal.
Guth Gafa was housed in Duke Brothers, a former hardware shop on Market Street that has old medieval walls, where the organisers opened a 50-seat cinema upstairs, reinvigorating a retail space that had been closed. Sadly the space has just closed. The organisers are on the move and hope to reopen somewhere else in the town soon where they plan to open an art gallery. Here’s hoping it’s soon. The signage of the old premises certainly livened up the streetscape.
€20 or less
Award-winning craft butcher Thomas Doherty is a must-visit for his prizewinning sausages and black and white puddings that are served in Dublin’s five-star Merrion and Marker hotels. His pork and leek sausages have been crowned supreme champions by the Craft Butchers of Ireland; The average purchase is a kilo of sausages, €7.50, which most customers freeze and defrost as needed, Doherty says. You’re advised to spend at least 10 minutes in the company of this Kells character.
6 Cannon St, Kells, 046-9241398
€50 or less
Love Nature was the first place to stock the Handmade Soap Company’s (046-9884704; thehandmadesoapcompany.ie) products which are free from parabens, petrochemicals, synthetic colours and fragrances. The company also stocks shaving soap with ceramic dish, €31.95, and scented candles in ruby red glass, €15.95. Love Nature, 1 Newmarket Street; 046-9240172
€100 or less
The Courtyard (above) is run by Oonagh McLoughlin who lives in the Georgian house on the grounds. It has some 8,500sq ft of browsable space which includes a tea rooms where an old Stanley range burns wood from the estate, and a studio where you take an upcycling class using Annie Sloan chalk paint.
The shop stocks everything from Max Benjamin scented candles to shabby chic French mirrors and Nicholas Mosse pottery (inset). In the gardens you can say hello to the resident birds, Hugo the peacock and peahens Hannah and Katie, who wander freely between the cafe’s tables hoping you might part with some of the chocolate cake that people travel miles to indulge in. The Courtyard reopens on March 1st.
The Courtyard, Cookstown House, Kells; 046-9240346; thecourtyardkells.com
€500 or less
Caulfield Country Boards started life as a joinery run by John Caulfield, but has evolved into a board and butcher block business run by his children, Pearse and Louise. They make beautiful crumb-catching bread boards and cool-looking beechwood butcher blocks. Costing €360, the block can be engraved for an additional €12.
Call 053-46 9240521/087-9549027; caufieldcountryboards.ie
Dunnes Premier House hasn’t changed its name since it opened its doors in 1913. It started life as a drapery run by Michael Dunne, whose granddaughter Rosemarie Dunne is now at the helm and says locals recall getting their Holy Communion and confirmation outfits on tick. The shop’s focus now is smart casual womenswear: Marco Polo, Betty Barclay, Basler, Luisa Cerano, Marc Aurel, Marie Mero and Mos Mosh jeans, which are new this season. Buy a Luis Cerano baby blue mac, €559, or a fringed Marc Aurel jacket, €319.95 and semi-sheer blouse, €199.95. 046-9240037; dunnespremierhouse.ie
Take a break at the Book Market, which serves great coffee and has a library of books to borrow and read by the open hearth. Indulge in a treatment at the Headfort Arms spa rooms 046-9274222 headfortarms.ie Visit the farmers’ market at Sheridan’s Cheese in Carnross on Saturdays. 046-9245110; sheridanscheesemongers.com