Kylemore Abbey, Ireland: The Tragic Tale Behind Ireland’s Iconic Kylemore Castle

Kylemore Abbey connemara
Photo by Brian Morrison

The chances are, you’ll have been to, or at least heard of, the magnificent Kylemore Abbey in Connemara.

Kylemore Abbey (yes, ‘Kylemore’ – not ‘Kilmore Abbey’) is one of those places that looks a little bit surreal when you first lay eyes upon it.

It’s almost as if someone plucked a set from a Walt Disney movie and plonked it down in the middle of Galway.

Below, you’ll find everything you need to know about visiting Kylemore Abbey, from its tragic past and it’s current state to tours and more.

Make sure to read our guide on what to do in Galway in 2020 when you’re finished. It’s packed with 34 worthwhile things to do.

kylemore abbey connemara

The Story of Kylemore Abbey, Ireland

The story of Kylemore Abbey is a tragic one that spans over 150 years since the foundation stone was laid by a woman of the name of Margaret Vaughan Henry.

Over the course of 150 years, the Abbey has seen it’s fair share of tragedy, romance, innovation, education and spirituality.

It all started with love

Kylemore Abbey was constructed as a castle in 1867. Its foundation stone was laid on September 4th, 1867 by Margaret Vaughan Henry.

Margaret was the wife of a Manchester-born fella named Mitchell Henry. Now, although Mitchell was technically English, he claimed that every drop of his blood was Irish.

When the pair married in the mid-1840s, they honeymooned in the west of Ireland. It was during this time that they first laid eyes on a hunting lodge in the valley of Kylemore.

Mitchell was a wealthy man with a vision

When the pair visited the Connemara region for the first time, it was during a time of desperation, hunger and disease.

However, Mitchell could see Connemara’s potential and believed he could drive economic growth to the area.

Mitchell was the son of a wealthy cotton merchant, but he was wealthy in his own right, also. He was a skilled pathologist and eye surgeon and owned a successful practice in the UK.

When his father passed, Mitchell became immensely wealthy and decided to quit his medical career, moving to liberal politics where he believed that he could change the world.

Kylemore Abbey Ireland
Photo by Chris Hill

The building of Kylemore Abbey – the Connemara Castle

Mitchell bought the estate that we now know as Kylemore Abbey and its Victorian walled garden as a gift for his wife and their growing family.

Kylemore Abbey was designed by an Irish architect named James Franklin Fuller. It was a lavish structure with:

  • 33 bedrooms
  • 4 bathrooms
  • 4 sitting rooms
  • A elaborate ballroom
  • A billiard room
  • A library, study and school room
  • A smoking room and gun room
  • A number of offices and staff residences

It also bosted magnificent gardens, walks and woodlands which covered a staggering 13,000 acres of land.

Then tragedy struck

In 1874, a couple of years after Kylemore Abbey was completed, the Henry family took a trip to Egypt. It was while travelling to Egypt that Margaret became ill.

Tragically, nothing could be done to help her and she passed away at just 45 years of age. Margaret’s body was returned to Kylemore where her remains were placed in a red brick mausoleum in the woodlands of the Kylemore estate.

To this day she lays alongside Mitchell in the little Mausoleum in the woods.

Kylemore Abbey connemara
Photo by Brian Morrison

What to expect from Kylemore Castle in 2020

I visited Kylemore Abbey back in April of this year… and it was pissing rain, which wasn’t ideal.

We arrived into the car park and made a run for the cafe and restaurant where we warmed the bones with a bowl of veg soup and a piping hot coffee.

Those of you that visit Kylemore Castle in 2020 can do several different things:

  1. Admire it from afar
  2. Explore the abbey
  3. Ramble around the Victorian Walled Garden
  4. Head off on a walk through the woods and along the lake
  5. Visit the neo-Gothic Church

Admiring the abbey from afar

I’ve never gone inside Kylemore Abbey. I’ve only ever admired it from the road near the carpark. Up until writing this guide, I thought that’s all there was to Kylemore.

Which is terrible on my part. If you’re stuck for time and just looking to see Kylemore Castle from the view in the picture above, you can do so about 20 feet from the carpark.

Kylemore Abbey ireland
Photo via Ireland’s Content Pool

Kylemore Abbey tours

Those of you that want to dive into the history of Kylemore Abbey, can nip inside and explore its beautifully restored period rooms and embark on a Visitor Experience.

A new tour of the Abbey was launched back in June 2019. It takes visitors on a journey through the many generations of people who have dwelled, worked, studied and prayed inside the castles magnificent walls.

Visitors will have stories brought to life in spectacular fashion via historical photographs, audio-visual presentations, artefacts, historical costumes and much more.

Opening hours

  • November – March: 9.30 to 16.30
  • April – July: 9.30 to 18.00
  • July & late August: 9.00 to 19.00
  • September – October: 9.30 to 17.30
Kylemore Abbey Walled Garden
The walled garden (Photo by George Munday)

The Victorian Walled Garden

When you’re done exploring the interior of Kylemore Abbey, take a ramble outside to the beautiful 6-acre Victorian Walled Garden. The garden at Kylemore boasts restored garden buildings and formal flower, vegetable and herb gardens.

The Victorian Walled Garden was developed with the castle in the late 1800s and at one point boasted a staggering 21 heated glasshouses along with 40 gardeners.

Over the years, the garden fell into decline. It wasn’t until the Benedictine nuns began an extensive restoration project in 1995 that it started to regain some of its former glory.

It wasn’t until 5 years later, in 2000, that the garden was opened to the public. A year later it was awarded with the prestigious Europa Nostra Award.

Visit the Neo-Gothic Church

You’ll find Kylemore Abbey’s Church a handy 5-minute stroll from the castle, along the shores of the lough.

This elegant structure was built by Mitchell Henry for his wife Margaret. When Margaret passed, Mitchell set about building a mini-cathedral in loving memory of Margaret.

The beautiful neo-gothic church on the grounds of Kylemore Castle is a testament of Mitchell’s love for his wife. 

Woodland walks

If you arrive to Kylemore Abbey on a fine day, head off on the woodland and lakeshore walk that takes you on a journey through the magnificent 1,000-acre estate.

You’ll find the Mausoleum near the Church. It’s here where Mitchell and Margaret Henry are buried. Margaret’s remains were placed inside the mausoleum in the woods shortly after her passing. It wasn’t until 1910 that Mitchell joined her.

The Kylemore Abbey gift shop

Unsurprisingly enough, there’s a Kylemore Abbey gift shop (it’s called the Craft and Design Shop). You’ll find a wide selection of gifts, homeware, and clothing here. 

How to get to Kylemore Abbey, Ireland

The easiest way to get to Kylemore Abbey is via a car or on an organised tour (more on these in a second).

You’ll find Kylemore Abbey in Connemara, in County Galway. Whack the name into any GPS and you’ll find it with ease.

The most common questions that we tend to get revolve around getting from Kylemore Abbey to Galway or vice versa.

Galway to Kylemore Abbey / Kylemore Abbey to Galway

So, as there is currently no direct bus from Galway to Kylemore Abbey, if you aren’t driving you’ll need to take an organised tour.

Below, you’ll find several tours with great reviews that’ll get your from Galway to Kylemore Abbey and back again:

  1. Connemara & Cong: Full-Day Tour from Galway (€30 per person with great reviews)
  2. Connemara & Kylemore Abbey Full-Day Guided Tour (€24 per person with great reviews)
Howaya! Thanks for visiting the Irish road trip! This site exists to inspire and guide you on an Irish adventure that’ll give birth to a lifetime of memories (sounds very arsey altogether, I know!) You'll find everything from things to do in Ireland to where to stay in Ireland (unique and unusual places) if you have a nosey around!

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