Bittersweet... Mark Smith, the creative Director of Kells Type Trail closing up the Sawmills.

Sawmills centre to become new type of attraction in Kells

Last week marked the end of an era when the Sawmills building on Church Lane in Kells formally closed.

The popular community arts space is about to undergo a major development programme costing €1million which will see the building transformed in to a centre of typographic excellence.

The new centre, when completed, will house fully restored Kells printing presses which date back to the 1830s and at one time printed the Meath Chronicle.

According to Mark Smith, the creative Director of Kells Type Trail, last week was a “bitter-sweet occasion.”

“It marked the end of one era where the building was used by the community for numerous events and celebrations such as weddings, funerals, the Christmas Living Crib and it was where preparations for the annual Kells Type Trail event were born and developed.

“From here on in, work will commence on transforming the building in to a functioning print works that celebrates lettering as a modern art form which will tie in nicely with the legacy of St Colmcille and the world famous Book of Kells.”

Over the coming months, assigned architects and designers will move the project up a gear as work progresses on turning the building in to a centre that will add to the tourist experience in Kells.

A spokesperson for Meath County Council said there is a design team in place developing the detailed design and tender documents.

When the detail design is complete, it will be presented to the Kells Municipal District Council members.

Funding for the refurbishment of the Sawmills is through the Towns and Village Renewal Scheme.

The big attraction in the centre will the Wharfedale printing press dating from the 1830s. It is the same make as the Wharfedale press that was used in Liberty Hall, Dublin to print the Irish Proclamation in 1916.

The Wharfedale machine is one of only two if its kind currently on the island of Ireland.

“We are extremely grateful to Surrey-based Father Sean Finnegan who donated the print works to the people of Kells,” says Mark Smith.

“The press was tucked away gathering dust in Maudlin Street, Kells and came to our attention when local resident Angela Ryan informed a meeting of Kells Local Heroes four years ago of its existence.

“Four of the five presses have been meticulously restored and work is underway on the fifth.”

Mark explains that the Sawmills has been a great community resource since the late Jim Nevin allowed it to be used as a community arts space ten years ago.

It was the headquarters of the Kells Type Trail and had been used by the local scouts, the Active Retirement Group and Kells Local Heroes.

The Type Trail will now be based in the old convent building in Kells.

Ken Murray, Chairman of Kells Local Heroes said: “This proposed centre and the unique mechanics of the printing presses will attract huge numbers into the town.

“The centre itself will be a major addition to what the town already offers to tourists who visit Meath from all over the world to see where the Book of Kells originated.

“It is hoped, all going to plan, the new centre will be open to the public no later than the summer, 2024,” he said.