Located in the picturesque Connemara area of Co. Galway, Kylemore Abbey has been a very popular tourist attraction for many years. Filled with a deep history that dates as far back as the 17th century, it is no wonder that this has been a popular tourist destination for both people visiting Ireland and Irish locals.
Before it was Kylemore Abbey, the structure that can be visited today was Kylemore Castle. Built in 1868 as a gift for his wife, Margaret, after having traveled there for their honeymoon in the mid 1840s, Mitchell Henry collaborated with James Franklin Fuller and Samual Ussher Roberts to design the structure that would eventually become Kylemore Abbey.
The construction took a total of one hundred men and four years to complete. The private home covers approximately 40,000 squared feet and has over seventy rooms including 33 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, 4 sitting rooms, a ballroom, a billiard room, library, study, school room, smoking room, gun room, and various offices and domestic staff residences for the butler, cook, housekeeper and other people that worked in the house.
After thirty-five years of the couple living on the beautiful property, Margaret passed away and Mitchell built a beautiful neo-Gothic Church in her memory. Although the construction of the church was completed in 1881, no member of the family was ever placed in the vaults. Instead, the bodies of Margaret, Mitchell and a great grand-nephew, John Henry, are laid to rest in the family mausoleum, located just after the church, on the left-hand side of the avenue.
The castle remained in Henry’s estate after he left Ireland to return to England, however, it was sold to the Duke and Duchess of Manchester in 1903. The couple resided at Kylemore for eleven years before they were forced to sell the grounds because of gambling debts. In 1920, the estate was purchased by a group of people that would change the function of the property for the next couple of years.
The Benedictine Nuns and their Kylemore Abbey School
The Irish Benedictine Nuns had been based in Ypres, Belgium, for several hundred years, however, during World War I, their abbey was bombed and they were forced to leave the place they had called home for so many years. For many years, nobility had sent their daughters to be educated by the Benedictine nuns in their Belgian Abbey. In 1920, the order of nuns purchased Kylemore and began restoring it to its former glory.
Three years after arriving at Kylemore, the Benedictine Nuns founded Kylemore Abbey School (Scoil Aine) with just 30 pupils. This number, however, would grow as the school began acquiring its reputation. The nuns converted the principal reception rooms and bedrooms in the Abbey to classrooms, with other rooms being converted to dormitories. The Abbey worked as a boarding and day school for locals, nationals, and international students. Over the years, the boarding school attracted many high-profile students, and there are hundreds of alumnae around the world who fondly remember their time and studies at Kylemore Abbey.
From the beginning, Kylemore Abbey School was considered a ‘high-class school’ that offered ‘all the advantages of a Continental education without the necessity for lengthened travel’. While originally only a boarding school, with students from countries such as India, Japan, Mexico, and America, in the 1930s it began accepting day students who studied alongside boarding students.
With the social changes that were occurring at the time, the number of girls enrolling in the school was rapidly decreasing. Similarly, the number of nuns remaining to teach at the school drastically decreased. Because of these two factors, the nuns made the difficult decision to close the school. The last students of Kylemore Abbey School completed their exams in June 2010.
Kylemore Abbey: as it is today
Although it no longer operates as either a boarding or a day school, guests can still visit Kylemore Abbey and the surrounding estate. In 2019, an interactive Visitor Experience opened where visitors can learn about the people who lived, studied and prayed in Kylemore Abbey. This is done through a series of historical photographs, audio-visual presentations, displays of artefacts from the Kylemore archive, historical costumes and beautifully restored period rooms.
Guests can enjoy a self-guided tour of the ground floor of the Abbey, taking in the modern interpretation along with the restored period rooms. The upstairs of the building is not open to guests however, because it is still in use for the Benedictine Nuns who live on the Kylemore estate. By visiting the restored rooms open to the public, guests will step back in time and learn about the people who spent their time on the estate.
By visiting Mitchell Henry’s library and study, guests can meet the couple and hear about their time on the grounds through speaking portraits, hidden audio and visual effects. The inner hall and saloon hall offers an insight into the ways in which the Henry Family used the estate to enjoy a number of activities, such as fishing and shooting. The drawing room, which has a fine Italian fireplace and hand-stenciled wallpapers, has been modeled in the way it was during the Victorian era. Here, guests will see the only portrait of Margaret Henry and a recreation of one of her ball dresses from the 1860s.
Visiting the morning room, where ladies sat to read, sew and entertain guests, visitors will learn about life at Kylemore Castle and the Henry children. The dining room also offers an insight into life on the estate, as the table has been laid out as if waiting for guests. The Ante room leaning between the Dining room and inner halls introduces guests to the second occupants of the estate, the Duke and Duchess of Manchester, and to the many guests that visited Kylemore throughout the years. More information about the Duke and Duchess of Manchester can be learned in the Gallery Saloon Hall.
In order to help save trees, Kylemore asks people to download a digital copy of the brochure of the grounds before arriving so they can plan the perfect day, while also getting small snapshots of the ground’s history as they visit each location.
Kylemore Abbey and its surrounding estate is partially accessible to wheelchair users and offers access to six of the nine open rooms. The neo-Gothic church, however, is not accessible for wheelchair users. While the shuttle buses to the gardens are suitable for wheelchair users, there are some steep inclines and steps which prevent full accessibility to the areas of the gardens. Because of these limitations, Kylemore Abbey offers a discounted rate to wheelchair users, disabled persons and their Carers.
Walking through the Victorian Gardens
Built along with the castle in the late 1800s, the Victorian Walled Gardens once had 21 heated glasshouses and 40 gardeners. The gardens built on the Kylemore estate were one of the last walled gardens built during the Victorian period in Ireland, and they were so advanced for the time that they were often compared to the Kew Gardens in London.
Taking up roughly 6 acres of land, the Gardens are divided into two by a mountain stream. The eastern side consists of the Formal Flower Garden, glasshouses, the head gardener’s house, and garden bothy. The western side includes the vegetable garden, herbaceous border, fruit trees, a rockery, and a herb garden.
The gardens on the estate also contain a shaded fernery, which was an important feature of any Victorian Garden. Today, the Heritage Garden only displays plant varieties from the Victorian era, making it as authentic to the way it would have looked when the Henry family lived on the estate as possible.
The first area guests will see on entering the Victorian Gardens is the Formal Flower Garden. Based on archive photographs taken by Alexander Henry in the 1870s, the garden is set up in a fashionable Victorian style. Alexander Henry, one of the Henry sons, is the person responsible for many of the black and white photographs that can be seen around the Kylemore estate today.
The Vegetable Garden has played an important role for the estate since it was added by the Benedictine Nuns during their efforts to restore the gardens once they had arrived. For most of the 100 years that the nuns were at Kylemore, the Benedictine community there was able to be almost self-sufficient because of this garden. While today, not enough can be grown to supply the busy estate, anything that is grown in the Vegetable Garden is sent to restaurant kitchens or sold to raise money for charities.
Hiking the trails of Kylemore Abbey
The Kylemore estate is home to one of the few woodlands in Connemara, and the name ‘Kylemore’ comes from the old Irish name ‘Coill Mor’ which means ‘Big Wood’. When the Henry family settled in the area, they took it upon themselves to re-establish the former glory of the woodlands, and planted 300,000 trees during their time there.
There are a number of walking trails available on the Kylemore estate ranging from a 5 minute walk (200m) to 30 minute walk (1km). With helpful signage and interesting facts as you make your way through the trails, this is a great way to keep the whole family entertained while taking in the beautiful area around the abbey.
There are also private hiking trails available where an experienced guide will recount the history and lore of the woodlands, along with pointing out the wildlife as you make your way through the mountains. For the moment, private hikes have been put on hold, however make sure to keep an eye out for when they will be made available again. When this does occur, make sure to book your group or private hikes ahead of time at email@example.com.
The tickets to Kylemore Abbey include full day entry to the estate. This includes the restored rooms and multi-media Abbey experience, the Victorian Walled Garden, the Neo-Gothic Church and mausoleum, and the Kylemore woodland trails.
Adult (18 years to 64 years): €16.00
Student (17 years or with valid Student ID) : €13.50
Senior (65 years +): €13.50
Family (2 adults and 2-6 children under 16): €40.00
Junior Student (13 to 16 years): €8.00
Child (12 years and under): €0.00
Visitor Centre and Admission to the Estate: Open 7 days a week 10am to 6pm (last admission to the Visitor Experience at 5pm)
Gift Shop: Open 7 days a week, 10am to 6pm
Dining at Kylemore: Open 7 days a week, 10am to 5pm
If you ever find yourself in the Connemara area, why not stop by Kylemore Abbey and learn about the history of the building and the people who contributed to make it the estate it is today!