Kylemore Abbey & Victorian Walled Garden is one of the most famous attractions in Connemara, and it’s easy to see why when you see it in person. When you arrive at Kylemore, the first thing you’ll notice is Pollacapall Lough and Kylemore Abbey in the background. Photos you take will instantly look like a postcard with the Abbey and the mountains in the background, and the reflection of the Abbey on the Lough. It’s one of the most beautiful sites, worthy of admiration!
The Castle and Walled Garden was built in 1867 by a wealthy man of Irish origin, the son of a wealthy Manchester cotton merchant, Mitchell Henry. He built the Castle for his wife Margaret as a romantic gift and a home for their growing family. Mitchell Henry was a successful pathologist and eye surgeon who gave up on his medical career to move to Connemara and pick up liberal politics, aiming to make a positive impact on the world. The Castle and grounds were built on the site of a hunting lodge which the pair discovered in the mid-1840’s while on Honeymoon in Connemara. Their Honeymoon was during the famine in Ireland where they saw much desperation and hunger, and Mitchell envisioned that building an estate in the area could bring economic growth and change to positively impact the area.
The Castle was impressive for the Victorian Age in which it was built. The architect for the Castle was James Franklin Fuller who worked with engineer Ussher Roberts. The Castle was built with 33 bedrooms with 4 bathrooms, 4 sitting rooms, a billiard room, ballroom, a study, school room, library, offices, domestic staff residences, a gun room and a smoking room. Today when you visit the Castle, you can access the ground floor which is rich with information: furniture and decor of the day, Victorian fashion exhibited on mannequins, audio-visual displays which highlight stories and information of the Abbey and it’s residents, and text-based information displays.
A Neo-Gothic Church which looks like a mini cathedral can also be explored when you visit Kylemore. The church was built as a result of tragedy. Mitchell Henry built it in the memory of his beloved wife who died of dysentery in Egypt during a family holiday. She was young, only 45 years old and known for being very beautiful. She left behind 9 children.
It was later in 1920 that the Castle and its grounds became an Abbey for a community of Benedictine Nuns. Today the Abbey is still home for nuns and there are services held daily, see https://trust.kylemoreabbey.com/our-mission/monastic-webcam/. The church hosts special Masses, music recitals, choral performances, and poetry readings.
Another impressive feature of Kylemore was the construction of the Walled Garden. The garden was one of the last walled gardens that were constructed during the Victorian period. It was a huge engineering feat to construct the garden and heat the 21 glasshouses. The glasshouses were heated by 3 boilers and an extensive network of underground hot-water pipes expanding 1,538 meters in length. Due to the good heating conditions, the Mitchell family could grow exotic fruits and plants which were highly valued.
Unfortunately when Kylemore was owned by The Duke and Duchess of Manchester, followed by Ernest Fawke, the impressive garden and its glasshouses fell into disuse and decline. Though the Benedictine Nuns used the garden since they arrived, it was only in 1996 when the Nuns received grant aid, bank loans and money from generous donors, that restoration work began on the gardens along with 2 of the glasshouses rebuilt.
When you visit Kylemore, you can take a shuttle bus from the from the Abbey which runs every 15 minutes, or you can take a scenic 20 minute woodland walk to arrive at the gardens. Personally I enjoyed taking the walk through the woodlands and enjoying the view of the surrounding forests, mountains and the river. There are also information boards on display giving information of specific features of the walk.
When you arrive at the Walled Gardens, there is a tea room available which serves welcome refreshments and homemade food. You can also admire the Connemara Ponies which graze the nearby field.
At the Abbey there is also a Craft Shop, Pottery Studio and Restaurant that can be enjoyed.
At the time of writing this, the entrance for an adult costs €15 and is well worth the cost for the experience of visiting Kylemore.
In conclusion I’d say with surety that adding Kylemore Abbey to my Connemara itinerary was a valuable experience that I won’t forget in a rush.