If you share our love for travel, we invite you to dive into yet another exciting journey where you can try delicious foods, photograph vast landscapes and have a memorable time. I can’t explain the whole experience of the sensory overload we had a chance to undergo while travelling along Ireland’s West coast a few months ago. At least not yet. But I know it was one of the best weekends that we’ve ever spent before the blustery autumn storms arrived.
When planning a weekend road trip around Connemara, we had our hearts set on driving the Sky Road, surfing wild Atlantic waves as well as re-visiting Kylemore Abbey & Gardens. We imagined a place full of rugged beauty and inexhaustible ocean vistas.
We arrived through Galway, also known as the City of the Tribes, passed through the lovely town of Oughterard and emerged into the spectacular scenery of Connemara where the peat fires and their unique blue smoke lingered in the air. We were delighted to finally see the blue sky, empty roads and rippling bogland’s that Connemara is so famous for.
Once we set foot in Connemara and wandered through the barren landscape to make our way to Kylemore Abbey, we knew we were in the right place. The dark and heavy rain clouds from the night before were in a process of clearing and watching the light come up on the nearby mountains was a fantastic way to start the day. Thank you Connemara, you were a dream.
A short history of Kylemore Abbey
Believe it or not, but Kylemore Abbey, located at the foot of Druchruach Mountain on the northern shore of Lough Pollacappul was originally built as a private home. In 1840, Henry Mitchell, a very wealthy Manchester-born doctor, brought his wife Margaret to Ireland on their honeymoon. They both fell in love with Connemara and he purchased the 15,000-acre estate as a gift for her.
The Irish architect James Franklin Fuller who was responsible for some of Ireland’s best-known buildings Ashford Castle including was the one who designed Kylemore Abbey in collaboration with Samuel Ussher Roberts.
Over a thousand men were hired to build the 40,000 thousand square feet Kylemore Castle that’s outfitted with 70+ rooms, a Victorian walled garden and a miniature cathedral. The love story turned tragic when Henry’s went on a holiday to Egypt, where Margaret caught dysentery and died shortly after.
The castle changed hands a few times before it was purchased by Benedictine nuns looking for a new home after they had to flee their monastery in Flanders during World War I.
Reasons to visit Kylemore Abbey
Originally built in 1867 as a romantic gift, Kylemore Abbey is one of the sought tourist destinations in Ireland and for a good reason. Not only Kylemore Abbey & Garden is located in a superb picturesque lakeside setting and surrounded by the lush woodlands, the Abbey, with its impressive neo-gothic style exterior, is said to be one of the most admired buildings in Ireland. The wooden floors, fireplaces and oak panelling and much of the furniture you’ll see are original.
Visiting the famous Abbey with its well-kept grounds and learning about history, culture, tragedy and romance is a great way to start your Irish adventure. It’s amazing to see what the Benedictine nuns have been able to achieve over the past century. With hard work and dedication, they’ve managed to create successful food, tourism arts and businesses, they’ve restored the heritage of the estate and established a centre of monastic spirituality.
Since June of 2019, the Abbey offers a Visitors Experience that that brings to life unique stories of people who lived, studied and worked there. The stories are told through audio-visuals, displays of artefacts, historic photographs and more.
While visiting the estate, depending on the time of the year, you can stay for a carvery lunch in Mitchell’s café, go on a guided tour with one of the knowledgeable staff members, stock up on delicious handmade chocolate from the Kylemore Craft & Design Shop and go on guided hikes above the estate.
Things to see and do at Kylemore Abbey
If you come to Kylemore Abbey to tour a castle and its stunning grounds, you won’t be disappointed. You’ll find plenty of things to see and do at the Kylemore Abbey to make your holiday in Connemara even more rewarding. Here’s a few of them.
Walled Victorian Gardens
The 6-acre Victorian Walled Garden that’s divided by a mountain stream is one of the highlights of the estate and a true engineering masterpiece. Located one mile west of the main Abbey the walled gardens was one of the last ones to be built in Ireland during the Victorian times.
There were 21 glasshouses heated by three boilers and underground hot-water pipes measuring 1,538 metres in length to grow exotic plants and fruit. Sadly, the garden went into decline under the ownership of The Duke and Duchess of Manchester but was restored by the Benedictine Community and even and won the prestigious Europa Nostra Award in 2002.
On the western side of the garden, you’ll find a herb garden, fruit trees, and a rockery. The eastern half is dedicated to the formal flower garden which only contains authentic Victorian flowers and plants.
To get to the gardens you can use a shuttle bus that runs every 15 minutes or you can walk through the beautiful woodlands.
It took four years to complete Kylemore Abbey and in the end, there were 33 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, a library, ballroom, study, sitting room, gunroom, domestic staff room and many more. The rooms were decorated in the Victorian style. The type of furniture at that time, as you can see in the photo below, can be distinguished by intricate carvings and natural images such as flowers, leaves, and curved lines.
Keep in mind that only a small number of rooms have been restored to the splendour which the Henry and his family lived; the remainder of the Abbey is in use by the Benedictine nuns and is closed to visitors. Some of the rooms you’ll be able to see, decorated in the style of the day are Mitchell Henry’s Study, the Drawing Rooms and the Dining Room.
One of the most notable features of the abbey is the magnificent neo-gothic church that’s adorned with angels. It takes just a few minutes to walk along the shores of Lough Pollacapull to reach it. The building of this church started in 1877 when Mitchell Henry decided to dedicate it as a memorial to his dead wife Margaret who was 45 at the time when she died from dysentery. She was beautiful and a mother of nine children.
An Irish architect J.F.Fuller who designed the main building was also in charge of the design of a private church on the Kylemore estate. With a ribbed vault ceiling, stained glass windows and pointed arches the Gothic Abbey is is considered to be one of the most accomplished works in the Gothic Revival style in Ireland.
Just after the church, on the left-hand side of the avenue, located in a quiet spot, is the mausoleum of Mitchel and Margaret Henry.
Many musical performances, cross-community celebrations and poetry readings take place at the church throughout the year.
How to get to Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey is located in Connemara, Co. Galway, in the West of Ireland and the road to it is as beautiful as the place itself. The scenic drive gives you a glimpse of the spectacular Irish countryside. You’ll pass by Connemara ponies grazing at the foot of rolling hills, you’ll see vast fields dotted with sheep and you’ll get a chance to marvel at the jagged peaks of the Twelve Bens mountain range.
The Abbey is located on the N59 road between Clifden and Westport and is very easy to get to from Galway, Westport and Shannon. In the pre-Covid era, there were plenty of private tour operators which included a stop at the Kylemore Abbey, but nowadays you can get there by car.
Don’t forget that regional and local roads can be ridiculously narrow two-way roads that are often walled and has plenty of spray-painted sheep. Take your time getting to the abbey and once you arrive, leave your car in the outer lot and walk over to the estate to enjoy a great day out.
Driving distance and times to the Abbey :
- From Galway – 80 km. Driving time: 1hr.10 minutes
- From Clifden – 20km. Driving time: 25 minutes
- From Westport – 50km. Driving time: 50 minutes
- From Sligo – 144km. Driving time: 2hr.10 minutes
- From Dublin – 284km. Driving time: 3hr. 30 minutes
Kylemore Abbey addmission
Kylemore Abbey is a place of great beauty and isolation. The estate usually is open to visitors all year, but in accordance with the government guidelines and pandemic crises, remains closed for now. You can still join the Benedictine nuns for religious and spiritual ceremonies via the recently installed webcam.
We visited Kylemore Abbey at the end of the summer and the ticket allowed us to explore the estate and included:
- The Mausoleum
- The Gothic Church
- The restored rooms in the main building
- Lakeshore and woodland walks
- The Victorian Walled Garden
- Entry to the performances in the church
- Guided garden tours that take place in June, July and August
What to do nearby
If you are looking for more things to do after your visit to Kylemore Abbey, why not consider visiting nearby villages, taking in the Wild Atlantic seascapes or going for a looped walk known as Diamond Hill Loop. Connemara includes the largest Gaeltacht-speaking regions in Ireland and you’d be mad to miss its rugged beauty.
The Abbeys close proximity to the beaches and mountains makes it easy to extend your stay to enjoy a few outdoor activities. After all, you are in 2,957 hectares of outdoor paradise called Connemara National Park.
Some of the nearby villages worth visiting are Clifden, Letterfrach and Laeanunn. In the Town of Clifden, you’ll find The Marconi Station, where in 1907 the first trans-Atlantic telegraph was received between North America and Europe. There’s also the old Clifden Rail Station which now houses a theatre and The Station House Museum.
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Now, over to you!
Have you ever been to Kylemore Abbey? Let us know in the comments!
Let us know if you are plotting a road trip to Ireland and have travel-related questions!