Step back in time when you visit Kylemore Abbey, a beautiful, large estate located within County Galway, only an hour away from Galway City. Built during the 19th century, the abbey was originally meant to serve as a home – and it did, for many years! It then became a sanctuary for Benedictine nuns, adding layers of culture and information to the fascinating history of the estate.
Visiting Kylemore today is a multifaceted experience. It’s a chance to learn about the history of the estate and the story behind its origins and inhabitants, as well an opportunity to to tour the grounds and its buildings. You can choose to join a tour of the building and estate or explore on your own. If you work up an appetite walking the grounds and exploring the woodlands, you can rest up with a bite to eat in the Abbey’s dining room.
I explored the mansion and grounds, taking the complimentary shuttle bus from the lower mansion lot to the top of the hill where the Connemara ponies and gardens are located. Here are my tips for visiting Kylemore Abbey and Estate.
The History of Kylemore Abbey
Located in the Connemara region of Ireland, the land surrounding what is now Kylemore Abbey – that is, all that is part of Kylemore Estate – was purchased by Mitchell Henry, a wealthy British doctor, and his wife in the mid-1850s. They were visiting in the west of Ireland and fell in love with the land, wanting to make it their home. They started construction of their home in 1868 – the building that is now the famous abbey – laying the cornerstone of its completion in 1874.
Designed by James Franklin Fuller, the home was intended to express modern innovations that were taking the world by storm at the time. Not only that, but Doctor Henry and his wife were determined to show off the beauty of Connemara within their estate and the home itself, as their love for Ireland and its countryside was no secret.
After the couple’s time in Galway County, they returned to England and the estate was sold a few times. It was eventually purchased by a community of Benedictine nuns, that had fled Belgium during the World War I. The sisters settled at Kylemore and turn the mansion into an abbey.
Since its initial occupation by the Benedictine order of nuns in the early 20th century, the abbey and estate have a home to order. The nuns conduct daily religious services and practices and live communally in the Benedictine monastery. They are supported by tours of the estate and meals in the cafe, along with sales of various products they make (candles, candy, liqueur, religious paraphanelia, and donations and bequests.
The abbey also has a relationship with Notre Dame University and hosts several educational programs for the university’s students.
Today, visitors can visit the estate and the abbey and learn all about its history and the lives of the Benedictine nuns.
Things to Do and See When You Visit Kylemore Abbey
If you want to make the most out of your visit to Kylemore Abbey and Estate, you can easily spend a full day seeing everything – touring the mansion, the Victorian gardens, visiting the ponies, browsing the gift shops, and having a bite to eat.
I had a more limited amount of time, about half a day, so I had to made my to-do list based on what most piqued my interest. My top two interests were the mansion and the ponies. As an animal lover, I wasn’t going to miss a chance to see these adorable creatures. Anything in addition to that was all extra joy.
Since your interests may be different from mine, I’e asked fellow travelers on this trip, as well as others who have visited the Abbey, and here’s my round-up of the best and most popular things to see and do when you visit Kylemore Abbey and Estate.
Explore the Abbey and Learn All About Generations of History
The first, and most obvious, attraction is the abbey itself. Steeped in history, Kylemore Abbey is a massive building consisting of an incredible 70 different rooms. This includes 30 bedrooms, four bathrooms, four sitting rooms, a ballroom, a library, a school room, and more.
Visitors are treated to a self-guided audio tour, so you can wander around from room to room at your own pace. You’ll learn about how each room was used by the castle’s different occupants, and how they lived, studied, worked, and prayed through the years.
Kylemore Castle is filled with interesting artifacts, photographs, historical presentations, and costumes displaying historically accurate fashion. With so many period rooms, decorated according to the styles of particular periods, the history is palpable. I found myself wondering what it was like to have sat in the drawing room during the Victorian era when it was a private home.
Wander around the Victorian Walled Gardens
Spanning an incredible six acres, the Kylemore Gardens pay homage to the beautiful Irish scenery, demonstrating a little bit of order within the wild Connemara countryside.
The gardens were the pride and joy of Doctor Henry, the estate’s original owner, and were developed towards the end of the 19th century. During its heyday, 40 gardeners were employed to maintain the grounds, with 21 different greenhouses. It was later re-organized and changed in the 20th century, but it still maintains most of the original key features.
The grounds are divided into east and west sides, separated by a gorgeous little stream. Between the two, the Kylemore Estate Walled Gardens include a formal flower garden, the garden bothy, the head gardener’s house, a vegetable garden, a herb garden of sorts, fruit trees, a rockery, and a fernery.
This was one of the last walled gardens from the Victorian era to be built, and every effort is been made to ensure that only Victorian period plants are grown.
During my visit I took a short walk through the garden. The weather turned a little rainy so I cut it short. It was worth more time, but I did take photos of my favorite gardens and are going to try to replicate them during the summer months here at home.
Visit the Neo-Gothic Church
Completed in 1881, Kylemore is home to a special Neo-Gothic Church that is a testament to the history of the estate and its founder.
The small cathedral was built as a tribute to the love story, and eventual loss, of Doctor Henry’s beloved wife, Margaret Henry. The church displays typical neo-gothic architecture, including gargoyles, angels, flowers, and birds. It’s a hauntingly beautiful building that simply oozes history.
Explore Kylemore’s Woodland Trails and Lakeside
Records of early Irish travelers’ visits to Kylemore Woodlands show that it was always an incredibly beautiful area. However, the Henry family nurtured its natural beauty and are credited with turning the beauty of the area into one of its top attractions.
The family planted over 300,000 trees during their time on the estate. The woodlands surrounding the estate and into the countryside are home to a variety of different species of trees, both native and non-native, and today, visitors can enjoy wandering the grounds on beautiful and well-marked trails.
Grab a Bite at the Restaurant and Café
Fill your belly with delicious home-cooked food at Kylemore Abbey’s Café and Restaurant.
Food has always been an important part of Benedictine culture, so make sure you make time for lunch or tea and a snack when you visit Kylemore Abbey and Estate. You’ll be spoiled for choice, but for the best and most authentic experience, try out one of the many home-cooked soups, delicious baked treats, and their famous Irish cream liqueur.
I head a hearty, filling bowl of vegetable soup, and was so full that I had to skip the baked goods. They looked delicious, and would have been well suited to accompany a cup of tea. You can discover more about the Benedictine Irish cream liqueur in an upcoming article.
Need to Know
Getting there: Kylemore Abbey is located in Connemara, Co. Galway, Ireland. I visited on Globus Tour so didn’t have to worry about details. If you’re visiting independently, this location is about and hour and a half from Galway City and an hour from Westport in County Mayo.
Opening Hours and Entrance Fees: Ticket prices are !6 Euros for adults, 13.50 Euros for seniors and students, along with various discounts for younger children and family pricing. Entrance fee includes full day entry to the estate, including the restored rooms in the mansion, the multi-media Abbey experience, access to the gardens, church, mausoleum, and woodland trails. Tickets are available for purchase online, where you can also check the current hours of operation. The nuns livestream Holy Mass and some of their other prayer services. You can view these both live and recorded from home.
Official website here.
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