One of the most magical "castles" in all of Europe, much-photographed Kylemore Abbey is visible across a reedy lake with a backdrop of wooded hillside. The storybook Gothic Revival, gray-stone mansion was built as a private home between 1861 and 1868 by Mitchell Henry, a member of Parliament for County Galway, and his wife, Margaret, who had fallen in love with the spot during a carriage ride while on their honeymoon. The Henrys spared no expense—the final bill for their
house is said to have come to £1.5 million—and employed mostly local laborers, thereby abetting recovery from the famine (this area was among the worst hit in all of Ireland). Adjacent to the house is a spectacular neo-Gothic chapel, which, sadly, became the burial place for Margaret, who died after contracting "Nile fever" on a trip to Egypt. In 1920, nuns from the Benedictine order, who fled their abbey in Belgium during World War I, sought refuge in Kylemore, and ran a girls' boarding school here until 2010. Three reception rooms and the main hall are open to the public, as are a crafts center and cafeteria. Look out for chocolates, and a range of soaps hand-made, labelled and packed by the nuns. There's also a 6-acre walled Victorian garden; a shuttle bus from the abbey to the garden departs every 15 minutes during opening hours. An exhibition and video explaining the history of the house can be viewed year-round at the abbey, and the grounds are freely accessible most of the year. Ask at the excellent crafts shop for directions to the Gothic Chapel (a five-minute walk from the abbey), a tiny replica of Norwich Cathedral built by the Henrys.
Entrance off N59 about 8 km (5 miles) east of Letterfrack, Letterfrack, Co. Galway, Ireland
Nov 9, 2005
As my daughter and I toured Ireland we both felt most at home in the Connemara area. It's rugged and wild landscape had a tundra-type look and feel to it, but then to have that offset by happening upon the lake view of the richly forested Kylemore Abbey while traveling from the east was awe-inspiring. Loved touring the Abbey, Chapel, and Gardens, each one better than the last. Found the gift shop to have some of the best prices in Ireland - and the
only place we found naturally shaded Jacob Sheep Connemara socks - a 100% undyed wool/no bleach all natural sock, and celtic patterned scarves woven so finely that they feel like silk. The best memory we have of Ireland is our time spent at Kylemore Abbey and the surrounding Connemara.
Oct 14, 2005
Our visit to the Abbey years ago still sears my memory. We stumbled across it on a scenic drive, having no idea that this abbey is one of the most photographed around. I now have a poster of it (bought in the States) in my classroom. It's beautiful, and easy to tour. I remember there being an entrance fee to tour the inside of the abbey, but cannot remember what it was at the time. It's a nice stop, though not an all day activity.