Kylemore Abbey may just be the most photographed building 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 is the epitome of a fairy tale castle.
The Tale of Kylemore Abbey
A hunting lodge once stood in the Kylemore Valley at the very spot where the castle now stands. 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. The stunning Neo-Gothic Church was built 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. The castle became Kylemore Abbey and later, an international boarding school. Today, the boarding school is gone, but the nuns still live and work in the Abbey and across its beautiful grounds.
Visiting Kylemore Abbey
If you come to Kylemore Abbey to tour a castle, you will be disappointed. Only three rooms have been restored to the grandeur which the Henry family lived; the remainder of the Abbey is in use by the nuns and is closed to visitors.
But don’t let that deter you; the Abbey grounds are absolutely incredible and fun for families.
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. Be sure to look closely at the gargoyles- they are angels.
Six 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 for families- and quite fun as along the paths you”ll discover the Children’s Play Trail filled with musical instruments, mirrors and magical creations.
The Victorian Walled garden lies about a kilometer west of the Abbey. A good stretch of the legs, 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.
After exploring the gardens be sure to stop into the Tea House for a cuppa and one of their delicious pastries or cakes.
And before you leave, don’t miss the spectacular gift shop. The nuns hand make beautifully scented soap and amazing chocolates. You’ll also find felted wool bags, jewelry and woolens.
Tips for Visiting Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey sits in the far west of Galway, off the N59 about half an hour from Clifden.
Open year round, the opening times vary by month.
Note: Kylemore Abbey is closed from December 16 thru December 26 for Christmas.
Ticket fees (valid thru 2013)
Children under 10 accompanied by an adult FREE
Wear good walking shoes if you plan to walk along the trails. They are nicely paved but cover a large area. Guided mountain hikes are available May-September.
Where to stay: Ocean Villa in Clifden. Carmel & Martin’s daughter attended the boarding school at Kylemore Abbey and they have some terrific stories.
© 2013, Jody Halsted. All rights reserved.