A stunning 1,000 acre estate that’s steeped in history, Kylemore Abbey is the most visited tourist attraction in the west of Ireland and it’s located an hour’s drive from Ashford Castle. Renowned for its immaculately tended Victorian walled garden, which is the largest of its kind in Ireland, the Abbey’s riveting history and wonderful landscape make it well worth a day trip to explore.
Today, the Abbey is presided over by an order of Benedictine nuns but its story began with Victorian couple Mitchell and Margaret Henry, who decided to build their country retreat and family home here in 1867. Thanks to a lavish inheritance, the Henrys were able to employ Irish architect James Franklin Fuller to design their dream home. The result was an astonishing feat of extravagance which included 33 bedrooms, a ballroom, an ice house and Turkish Bathhouse as well as residences for the family’s domestic staff and plenty of gardens, walks and woodlands.
During the construction, Connemara residents would have heard the sound of dynamite for the first time in their lives. The castle’s foundations were precisely set into the mountain behind it so that the appearance of the building would be perfectly reflected in the waters of Lough Pollacapull.
Tragedy struck when Margaret Henry died unexpectedly in 1874 and, in her honour, her husband added a grand neo-Gothic church to the estate. By the turn of the century, the estate was sold to the Duke and Duchess of Manchester who set about extensively renovating the property. An American heiress, the Duchess’ large family fortune helped fund the couple’s extravagant lifestyle at Kylemore until 1913 when, due to the Duke’s gambling debts, they were forced to leave.
Fortunately, the estate found a new lease of life when, a few years later, the castle and its grounds were purchased by the Irish Benedictine Nuns who had been forced out of their ancient abbey in Ypres during World War I. The nuns used the castle not only as a convent but also as a school for young girls which remained open until 2010.
Visitors today will find evidence of the abbey’s history throughout the estate. Explore the impressive six acres of walled garden and marvel at the carefully restored interior of the abbey. Stretch your legs on one of the many scenic routes through the estate, from the lake to the woodland. There’s also a children’s play trail to keep young explorers happy, too.
Stop for a break at Mitchell’s Café or The Garden Tea House, both of which serve homemade meals and snacks. An unexpected highlight of the estate is the abbey’s Craft and Design shop which sells an impressive variety of handmade goods. Pick up some charming pottery made at the Abbey, alongside gourmet goodies made on site such as jams and preserves. Additionally, the shop sells items made by the nun themselves. Look out for fragrant lavender candles, shea butter lip balm and peppermint foot cream.
Take a day trip from Red Carnation Hotels’ Ashford Castle to enjoy west Ireland’s wealth of culture and history.
Image credits: all images courtesy of Kylemore Abbey.