"Kells", a parish, in the barony of Kells, county of Kilkenny, and province of Leinster, 6 1/4 miles (S. by W.) from Kilkenny, on the road from that place to Carrick-on-Suir; containing 1658 inhabitants, of which number, 482 are in the village. This place, which was formerly of considerable importance, was built by Geoffrey FitzRobert, one of Earl Strongbow's followers, for his English companions; he also founded a priory in 1183, which he filled with monks from Bodmin, in Cornwall; and his sons William and John gave charters to the inhabitants, constituting the place a free borough. The town afterwards passed into the De Birmingham family, and was burnt by William De Birmingham in 1252, during a dispute with the St. Aubans. Edward Bruce occupied it for a short time in 1316, and in 1327 it was again burnt by the De Birminghams. In the early part of the 14th century, the barony was granted to the Poers, and the town was fortified by Sir Eustace le Poer. Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, was slain near this place, in 1398, by the O'Brynes, whom he had pursued from their own country near Dublin. The priory, with some of its possessions, was granted at the dissolution to the Earl of Ormonde. The prior was a lord of parliament, and the priory of Tullelash, in the county of Cork, was under his authority. Several towers and part of the walls remain, and there is a large moat, said to have belonged to a college. The village, which contains about 70 houses, is a constabulary police station, and has a penny post to Thomastown. A fair is held in it on July 13th.
The parish comprises 4384 statute acres, as applotted under the tithe act; there are three large flour-mills, worked by water. The principal seats are Church View, and the glebe-house of Rev. C. Darby. The living is a vicarage, in the diocese of Ossory, united by act of council, in 1678, to the rectories and vicarages of Earlstown, Ballytobin, and Mallardstown, and the rectories of Kilree, Stamcarty, and Annamult, and in the alternate patronage of the Bishop and the Marquess of Ormonde, in the latter of whom the rectory is impropriate. The church is an ancient plain structure. The glebe-house is a handsome building; the glebe lands, in various parts of the union, comprise 54a. 2r. 24p. In the R. C. divisions the parish is partly in the union or district of Callan, but chiefly in that of Danesfort, and has a plain chapel. In the parochial school, about 20 children are educated, and about 200 in two private schools; there is also a Sunday school.
[From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837)]