Taking Time to Enjoy Kylemore Abbey
By Mary Caffrey Knapke
Kylemore Abbey is one of Ireland’s most iconic sights. It’s worth the drive through County Galway even if you only have time to stop in the car park, snap a photo, and tear back down the road again. That’s how I remember my first visit to the abbey, 15 years ago.
Luckily, several years later, my husband and I allowed ourselves to slow down during another whirlwind tour of Ireland and spend a few hours enjoying everything Kylemore Abbey has to offer. First, we toured the four rooms that have been beautifully restored inside the abbey. Then we went outdoors for a walk along Pollacappul Lake to the Gothic Church.
I hadn’t realized before that Kylemore Abbey has such a rich history. A fishing and hunting lodge existed on the site before Anglo-Irish businessman Mitchell Henry purchased the land. Construction on Kylemore Castle began in 1867 and took four years to complete.
Just a few years after the castle was completed, Mitchell’s wife, Margaret, died at the age of 45 while traveling in Egypt. Mitchell had the estate’s Gothic Church built in her memory. During our visit, my husband and I saw only a few other people come and go from the church. We enjoyed sitting for a while in the quiet solitude of this sacred space.
Mitchell and Margaret were both laid to rest in this mausoleum just down the path from the church. After Mitchell’s passing, the Kylemore Estate saw two more owners before the Irish Benedictine nuns purchased the castle and grounds in 1920. They continue to live and work at Kylemore Abbey today.
My husband and I spent the rest of our visit wandering through the Victorian Walled Gardens. Over the years, the gardens had become neglected, but they are now faithfully restored. It was fascinating to compare the displayed photos of the wild, overgrown area with the beautifully tended gardens that exist today.
When we drove to Kylemore that spring day, I think we expected to jump out of the car and snap a few photos like I had in the past. But the abbey and the lush scenery all around it drew us deeper and deeper into the day. It was definitely worth slowing down to experience this gem in the heart of Connemara.
Mary Caffrey Knapke has been traveling to Ireland since the early 1990s. She blogs about Irish music and memories at http://whilethesunsmiles.blogspot.com.