The town defences of Kells enclosed an area of c. 20 ha (c. 52 acres) and had a circumference of 1.8 km. The date of construction is uncertain but the earliest murage grant was in 1326 (Simms and Simms 1990, 2). In 1462 Parliament agreed to continue an existing murage grant (Berry 1914, 25). The walls were maintained into the 17th century and were scaled by Catholic Confederate troops when they captured the town in 1647. The walls were described as ruined in the Civil Survey (1654-6) but the Down Survey (1656-8) noted that Kells had a stone wall with five gates: Canon Gate, Carrick Gate at the N end of the Fair Green, Maudlin Gate, Dublin Gate on Headford Place, and Trim Gate on Bective Street.
Apart from one mural tower there are no upstanding remains of the medieval defences, although its line can be deduced from the Down Survey maps and a valuation of the town in 1663 (Simington 1960, 267-8). The line ran from the mural tower S of Canon Street westwards along the back of properties on the S side of that street to Canon Gate, but testing (01E0979) at this angle has failed to produce any evidence of it (Shanahan 2003). The wall turned N along the E side of the Fair Green to Carrick Gate. The wall is thought to have followed the back of properties on the N side of Carrick Street to Maudlin Gate on the eponymous street, but archaeological testing (01E1145) has so far failed to confirm this (Hayden 2006). It ran to the E of properties on the E side of Castle Street and continued to the Dublin Gate at the W end of Headfort Place. From here the wall followed a line at the back of properties on the S side of Kenlis Place and Farrell Street, crossed the N end of Bective Street at Trim Gate and ran by the back of properties on the W side of Suffolk Street to the mural tower, although testing on Bective St (06E0634) and the S side of Canon St (06E0634) has yet to confirm this (Roynane 2009).
The land falls away steeply to the S of the surviving tower which is in a naturally defensive location. The tower is circular (ext. diam. 5.1m), and constructed of roughly coursed limestone. It has two floors and a basement. At the first storey are three large slits covering the town wall and the area to the S, and there is a garderobe chute. At the second storey there is machicolation on the W side and a large window on the S side. The parapet does not survive. (Bradley and King 1985, 74-76)
The above description is derived from the published 'Archaeological Inventory of County Meath' (Dublin: Stationery Office, 1987). In certain instances the entries have been revised and updated in the light of recent research.
Compiled by: Michael Moore
Date of revision: 16 April 2019
Description Source: National Monuments Service, Department of Arts, Heritage Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.