Kylemore Abbey is one of the most visited attractions in Connemara and with its beautiful neo-gothic design and romantic flair its easy to see why. The Abbey was originally known as a castle and was built as a home for the family of Mitchell Henry, a wealth doctor from London whose family had made their fortune in the textile industry. Construction began on the castle in 1867 and it took a workforce of one hundred men four years to complete. The beautiful facade of the castle was constructed of granite brought from Dalkey in Dublin to Letterfrack (Galway) by sea, and of local limestone from Ballinasloe. It was designed by James Franklin Fuller who also designed Ashford Castle and Farmleigh House amongst other notable builds. The abbey was built as a romantic gesture for the wife of Mitchell Henry named Margaret. Mitchell was a liberal politician who in his later life supported the cause of Irish Home Rule and wanted Kylemore to showcase what beauty could be built in the wildest areas of the west of Ireland. Sadly for Mitchell, his wife only got to enjoy the fruits of Kylemore for a very short time, she died in 1875 aged 45, from fever while visiting Egypt. After the death of his wife Mitchell funded the beautiful neo-gothic church near the shore of the lake as a memorial to her, construction began in 1877. The church looks like a miniature replica of a Gothic cathedral, the inside featuring coloured marbles from the four provinces of Ireland. Margaret was laid to rest in a mausoleum that sits between the church and the abbey, where Mitchell joined her in death 35 years later in 1910. Mitchell serviced as an MP for Galway from 1871 to 1885 but spent little time at Kylemore after the death of Margaret.
The castle was sold to the Duke and Duchess of Manchester in 1903 who resided there for several years but had to sell the house in 1920 due to gambling debts. The lands and castle were purchased by Benedictine Nuns in 1920 who had fled Ypres in Belgium during World War I. Their Abbey at Ypres had been completed bombed out and the nuns were evacuated to London where they remained until 1920. The castle became known as Kylemore Abbey and was opened as an international boarding school and day school for Catholic girls from the area. The school closed in 2010 and now the abbey is mainly used as a tourist attraction but also the Benedictines continue to establish retreat facilities on the lands.
I visited Kylemore Abbey in the late 80s/early 90s as a child and it always resonated as a place of utter calm and striking beauty, at that time of course it was still operating as a school and the wonderful Victorian Walled Gardens were in ruin, these have been lovingly restored since the late 1990s. Its great to see the gardens being tended to as working gardens and its lovely to stroll around the bothy and to see where the head gardener would have lived. A visit to Kylemore is a must when in the area of Connemara.
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