It was a cold day in January as far as Irish weather goes, when we drove up to the ruins of a small church and parked. It seemed completely empty, but we could see more ruins to our right and past a small gate and large field, a looming wall, and towers. The Priory of Kells. Often confused with its more popular namesake to the north, this 12th-century ruin was the site of many conflicts and what would become the first witch burning in Great Britain, and possibly Europe.

Founded by Geoffrey FitzRobert, a knight under the famous Sir William Marshall and once a thriving community, it was raided and burned at least three times in its history. Later under the Le Poer (modern Power/Powers family) family member Arnold, it would be dragged into the sordid witch trials of Richard De Ledrede, a man trained in the inquisition's techniques by Pope John XXII. De Ledrede would turn on its head the established notion of male warlocks, such as the Templars he had helped persecute, and create a new notion of a sexualized female witch.

A walk across its green fields will take you through its intact medieval gates and past the huge 14th-century enclosure of tower houses that gives it the local nickname of "Seven Castles." From here one is transported into the 12th century main compound of church structures that include grave slabs, carvings, ornate arches, and windows. Amidst the silence of these lonely halls, is the whisper of the now buried ghost town that once supported its bustling community and an overgrown cemetery of its past denizens. 

Arnold, the Lord of Kells' opposition to the witch trials would cost him his life, and De Ledrede's trials focusing on local women such as Alice Kyteler would send many others to burn at the stake, setting off a witch craze that in time would reach the shores of America and claim the lives of hundreds of thousands. Today you can see no sign of these evils within the walls of the priory where the trials were first announced, nor do the mossy overgrown graves there call out for revenge. Kells today is mostly forgotten and missed by visitors for other attractions, and remains a largely untouched gem and an amazing example of a fortified monastery with no equal on the island. In a sense, the Secret of Kells today, is simply that of its unearned obscurity.

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