Kells Priory in Kilkenny, Ireland
With their imposing walls and seven stoic towers, these ruins look like they belong to a long-lost fortress rather than a priory. It’s easy to imagine that it was nobles and knights, not monks, who once strolled within the walls of what locals have nicknamed the “Seven Castles.”
But these ruins did indeed belong to a monastery. The Augustinian priory was founded in 1193. Its stone walls wrap around a lush three-acre patch of earth along the King’s River.
The priory weathered centuries of turbulence. It was burned down three times durings its first 150 years, and it’s believed the intimidating towers were built as a result of the fiery attacks it suffered. Fortunately, these fires didn’t destroy some of the land’s older treasures. A ninth-century Celtic cross stands proudly within the ruins, which is said to guard the burial place of Niall Caille, a High King of Ireland.
The priory was shuttered as part of the 16th-century Dissolution of the Monasteries. Now, its only visitors are curious tourists and many, many sheep. If you’re lucky and visit on a good day, you can meet the local historian, who may open one of the towers and allow you to climb to the top. While up there, you’ll have serene 360-degree views of the area, which will let you spot a quaint stream with a bridge.