Kylemore Abbey is one of the most recognized buildings in all of Ireland. This romantic castle, nestled at the base of a mountain on the edge of a glistening lake in the wilds of Connemara, brings to mind fairy tales, stories of everlasting devotion and, as with all good stories, tragedy.
The story of Kylemore ticks all the boxes, creating a memorable stop along Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way in County Galway.
The Tale of Kylemore Abbey
A hunting lodge once stood in the Kylemore Valley at the very spot where the castle now rises above the lake. A young couple on their honeymoon rented the lodge and fell in love with the untamed landscape of Ireland's ‘wild west' and wished to build a home there one day.
Upon the death of his father, Mitchell Henry inherited a sizable fortune and had Kylemore Castle built for his wife, Margaret. History tells us that Mitchell Henry made vast improvements to the land and provided much needed work, shelter and schooling for locals recovering after the Irish famine. The grounds eventually covered 13,000 acres and included gardens, walks, and woodlands which remain to this day.
Just three years after the castle was completed, Margaret Henry died while on holiday in Egypt. Mitchell erected a stunning Neo-Gothic Church in her memory.
Tragedy struck again a few years later when one of the Henry's daughters died suddenly at the estate.
Kylemore Castle changed hands a couple of times before coming to the Community of Nuns of the Order of the Benedectine in 1920. The castle was renamed Kylemore Abbey and has served as an international boarding school, day school for local girls, and even a guesthouse.
The boarding school closed in 2010 but this attraction in the west of Ireland welcomes tourists by the thousands, as well as special events and group activities.
Visiting Kylemore Abbey
If you come to Kylemore Abbey to tour a castle, you may be disappointed. Only a handful of rooms have been restored to the grandeur which the Henry family lived; the remainder of the Abbey is in use by the Benedictine community and is closed to visitors.
In the Abbey
Enter Kylemore Abbey through a grand granite arch to the left of the front door. This will guide you through a timeline of the estate and the story of how the Benedictine nuns came to Kylemore.
Following that you are swept back to the second half of the 19th century and the grandeur of the Mitchell family.
Speaking portraits and effects both audio and visual share the stories of daily life at Kylemore Castle.
The remaining rooms are decorated in the style of the day, but very few items were retained from previous owners.
Even though the items you see aren't original to the families who owned the castle it doesn't diminish the absolute opulence of the era.
Around the Estate
The grounds of the Kylemore Estate are expansive encouraging explorations and meditation.
To the east of the grand Abbey is the Neo-Gothic Church. Stunning in it's small stature and intricate details, you can explore inside and out.
Observant visitors will note that angels, not gargoyles, direct rain water down spouts. This change to traditional design was made as Margaret didn't like scary creatures.
Woodland and lakeshore walks wend through Kylemore's grounds. The Nature Trail from the abbey to the east past the church, and the Woodland Walk leading to the Victorian Walled Garden are easy strolls. Children may even discover interactive play areas along the way.
An outdoor play area can be found outside Mitchell's Cafe near the walled garden. It's a terrific spot for garden tea and a light snack or just a beautiful view while children enjoy the fairy forest and imaginative play structures.
The Victorian Walled Garden
The Victorian Walled garden lies about a kilometer west of the Abbey. It is an easy walk but there is a bus you can take if you like.
Covering 6 acres, the Victorian Walled Garden is beyond spectacular. Naturally split in half by a stream, you'll find the pleasure garden, Head Gardener's Cottage and greenhouses on the eastern side, and the plentiful kitchen gardens on the west. Take the time to explore and ask questions of the gardeners on duty. And be sure to tour the Head Gardener's Cottage; it's lovely.
Before you leave, don't miss the spectacular gift shop. The nuns hand make beautifully scented soap, amazing chocolates, and a smooth Irish Cream. You'll also find felted wool bags, jewelry, pottery, and woolens.
Tips for Visiting Kylemore Abbey
Plan a minimum of 2 hours here. More is better if you want to take time to enjoy the garden and the pathways.
Wear comfortable walking shoes.
History Talks and Guided Tours take place daily.
Guided hikes above Kylemore Abbey must be booked in advance.
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