Kylemore Abbey has got to be the most beautiful castle setting in all of Ireland!
I have seen many pictures of Kylemore Abbey. Indeed, if you Google Irish castles, it always comes up as one of the top picks. Like most of Ireland, words and pictures fall short of the real thing. You need to experience it to truly capture the beauty and aura of the Irish countryside.
Kylemore started out as a private residence for Mitchell Henry, a very wealthy doctor from London. He, like many others, fell in love with the area. He and his wife, Margaret, built the castle in 1868 and settled down to enjoy a very lordly Irish life in the remote area of Connemara County. Their castle spans over 40,000 feet, 70 rooms, and 10,000 acres of land. Not bad for a second home in the country!
Tragically, Margaret died in 1875 at the young age of 45 from a fever she contracted while on holiday in Egypt. Mitchell build a small, but beautiful, memorial church on the shores of the lake in memory of his wife. Eventually, he also was laid to rest next to her in the mausoleum. The castle was then sold to the Duke and Duchess of Manchester in 1909. After only a few years, however, the Duke lost the castle in a gambling bet. If I had been his wife, he would have joined Mr. and Mrs. Henry!
Luckily, the castle went to a good home. The Irish Benedictine Nuns purchased the castle in 1920 after fleeing their abbey in Ypres, Belgium, during World War I. They converted the castle to a private international girls boarding and day school, which operated until 2010. Today, they still own the abbey and maintain it as a retreat, educational place, and historical site to the public (€11.70/adult).
The nuns have done an impressive job keeping Kylemore in pristine shape. The castle is open for guided tours. There is also a wonderful cafe, gift shop, Victorian walled garden, and hiking paths to explore. Although a bus runs every 15 minutes from the abbey to the gardens, we elected to walk the mile and enjoy the scenery.
The Victorian walled garden was impressive! Mish gladly would accept living in the head gardener’s cottage. I still would opt for the castle. We had our usual afternoon tea in the garden restaurant and imagined what life would be like living here. Providing I did not have to keep up the yard work, not bad at all.