Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Walled Garden: Discover beautiful Kylemore Abbey in Connemara
Updated On: October 21, 2022
Kylemore Abbey is located in the region of Connemara in the West of Ireland. It is a beautiful location that combines nature, architecture and history in one picturesque estate. If you want to explore the inside of the abbey and the surrounding area, including the beautiful Victorian walled garden, we have got you covered.
This article comprises of two main sections, the history of Kylemore Abbey and a travel guide you can use during visit to Kylemore Abbey.
History of Kylemore Abbey & Victorian Walled Gardens
History of Kylemore Abbey and Connemara:
The abbey that we know so well today has a rich history. From its construction to the people who lived in it, there is plenty to learn about Kylemore Abbey.
In this year Kylemore Castle was built as a private home by Mitchell Henry (1826-1910). Henry was a former doctor as well as an English financier, politician and MP (Member of Parliament) in the House of Commons in the UK. From 1871 to 1885, Henry was the MP for county Galway. Originally a senior consultant in medicine, Henry returned home to Manchester after the death of his father and thereafter became involved in politics.
So why did Henry choose to build his castle in Galway? Well, in the mid 1840s, Mitchell and his wife Margaret had travelled there on their honeymoon. 20 years later Henry bought the land and hired construction to begin building the home he would live in with his family.
The castle was designed by James Franklin Fuller, with the help of Samuel Ussher Roberts. Fuller also worked on the restoration of Ashford castle in the mid 1870’s. The castle took over 100 men and 4 years to complete.
The castle covered 40,000 square feet and had over seventy rooms, including 33 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, 4 sitting rooms, a ballroom, a snooker room, a library, a study and school room as well as a smoke room, gun room, various offices and staff residence. There was also a beautiful church by the lakeshore and a family mausoleum constructed on site.
The church was a miniature replica of a gothic cathedral and the inside features coloured marble from the four provinces of Ireland. The whole site is magnificent and a true marvel of 19th century architecture in the West of Ireland.
Unfortunately, in 1875 disaster struck when Margaret died. Mitchell returned to England but kept possession of the castle, and kept it running. Margaret was buried in the family mausoleum. After Henry’s death in 1925, he was buried with her at the Kylemore estate. By this time, the Victorian Walled garden was no longer being cared for.
The romantic gesture the castle represented made Margaret’s death even more tragic. Henry’s decision to move home was testament to this as he could no longer stay in the home he built for his family without Margaret.
The castle was sold to the Duke and Duchess of Manchester in 1903. The couple spent several years there, but they were ultimately forced to sell the property because of gambling debts and so, the castle passed into new ownership once more.
The Irish Benedictine Nuns purchased the castle which would begin to be known as Kylemore Abbey from then on. The nuns had been based in Ypres, a Belgian city in Flanders for several hundred years until their abbey was bombed during World War I. As a result, the nuns purchased the abbey and land and moved to rural Ireland which was surely a massive cultural change, but the secluded nature of the castle was ideal.
The nuns were rescued and were evacuated to England until they moved to Connemara. The sisters converted the castle into a school for catholic girls by opening an international boarding school. They also offered a day school to girls in the local area which became the main school in the region. The school officially closed in 2010 due to falling vocation numbers.
Now Kylemore abbey is open to visitors who want to explore the area.
Since 2015 the Abbey has a partnership with the University of Notre Dame in the USA, hosting academic programmes for students. The university renovated spaces in the abbey in return. In 2021 the Kylemore Abbey Biodiversity Stewardship Programme saw the partnership of the abbey with NUI Galway. This has allowed students to document and research the biodiversity of the Kylemore estate.
The Victorian Walled Gardens:
Since the 1970’s large walled Victorian gardens have been open for public tours and nature walks. The garden has been restored which includes a kitchen garden and flower garden, allowing the monastery to be a self-sustaining estate. Full restoration of the garden began in 1995.
Many people were mainly self-sufficient in Ireland in the past as vegetables were grown and animals were farmed at home. During wartime when food was rationed, being able to be provide for one self was hugely important.
Developed alongside the castle in the late 1800’s, the gardens once contained 21 heated glass houses and 40 gardeners. It was actually one of the last walled gardens built during the Victorian period in Ireland and was so advanced that the 6 acre garden was compared to the Royal botanical gardens (Kew) in London. This highlights how Henry spent no expense when creating the luxurious estate for his wife.
The garden fell into disrepair after Henry left, but when the nuns arrived they used the gardens to grow fresh produce, along with a farm that supplied beef dairy and poultry, the abbey was almost self-sufficient. It is great that the garden was renovated as it is so easy to lose a piece of history over time.
The garden was and is both beautiful and functional. Along with flowers, a variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs were grown.
Today only Victorian era plants are grown to keep an authentic heritage. It is also home to one of the longest herbaceous borders in Ireland. The commitment to maintaining Victorian flora helps to make the garden feel more authentic.
This is only a taste of the rich history of Kylemore Abbey and the Victorian Walled Gardens. Some things you have to experience for yourself and in my opinion, Connemara is definitely one of them.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Moving on to our Kylemore Abbey travel guide, here are some useful questions that you may want to know the answer to before visiting the abbey.
Where is Kylemore Abbey:
Kylemore abbey location: Kylemore Abbey & Estate, Connemara, County Galway, Ireland
Kylemore Abbey Postcode: H91VR90
How to get to Kylemore Abbey by car:
You can see a lot of the West of Ireland when travelling by car. Here are some of the major locations that you may be travelling to the abbey from.
Kylemore Abbey to Galway City: 1hr 20min
Kylemore Abbey to Clifden, County Galway: 20min
Kylemore Abbey to Westport, Co. Mayo: 50min
How much does Kylemore Abbey cost?
The following prices were found on the official kylemore abbey website. You can check to see if prices have changed or if there are any current deals if you wish.
- Adult: €15
- Children under 16: Free
- Students & Senior Citizen’s €12.50
- Family (up to 6): €38
Do I have to pay to see Kylemore Abbey?
If you are just passing by, you will be able to take a photo of Kylemore abbey from the inside. However, if you want to see inside the abbey and walled garden you will have to pay the fee. Considering the max fee is €15, we would recommend buying the ticket if you can afford it in your travel budget.
What does my ticket entitle me to do at Kylemore Abbey?
Your ticket gives entry into the whole estate including
- Ground floor of restored rooms in the Abbey
- The neo gothic church
- The mausoleum
- The woodlands and lakeshore walk
- The Victoria walled garden (including a shuttle bus journey to the garden)
- Entry to events in the church when scheduled
- Guided garden tours in June, July and August
Visit Kylemoreabbey.com if you want to find out more information.
Why should I visit Kylemore Abbey:
A mixture of interesting history, beautiful architecture and the best of nature in the West of Ireland should be enough to entice anyone into visiting the area. Even as someone who lives in the countryside, the mountain and water views are something special, especially on a nice day.
Dining Options at Kylemore Abbey
While an entrance ticket is required to enter the Kylemore Abbey Estate, it is not needed to dine at the Kylemore Kitchen Café.
If you are looking for a bite to eat, Kylemore Abbey offers traditional Irish food. These home cooked meals include delicious and healthy soups, stews and salads as well as scones, brown bread and apple pie.
There is a self-service café if you want to grab a quick coffee and a snack. Why not try some award winning scones or a slice of homemade bread. You can grab a quick snack, but why not sit back and enjoy your time in Connemara with a full hot meal, with other food options including pasta and quiche.
Everything is baked fresh daily and the chefs at the abbey are more than happy to cater for vegetarian, vegan and coeliac diets. Irish home cooking is comfort food at its finest, so you may struggle to pick just one item from the menu!
Other things to do when in Connemara:
While visiting Kylemore Abbey you are so close to other great locations in Connemara. It would be a shame to be so close to such beautiful areas and miss them, so we have included some great locations nearby the abbey.
Visit Connemara National Park
Connemara Park covers 2000 hectares of bogs, heaths, grasslands and forests. The park is also home to many mountains, including the famous 12 Bens range. Operating for over 50 years, the park opened in 1980 and has focused on preserving the natural beauty of Ireland since.
The history of the park goes back much further, however. Richard Martin, or ‘humanity dick’ as he was also known, owned part of the park in the past. He helped to form the society for the prevention of cruelty to animals during the early 19th century. It is actually very common to spot wild sheep and goats when exploring rural Ireland!
Long before this, the park was used for agricultural means. Tombs as ancient as 4000 years old can be spotted on the parklands. The park has a long history of inhabitants and only some of them have been discovered so far.
If you enjoy the beauty of Kylemore Abbey, you may as well take some time to explore the Connemara National Park as you will see more of the same wonderful scenery.
Visit the town of Clifden
If you want to stay in the Connemara region, you may choose to stay in Clifden. Clifden is a beautiful small town nestled between the Twelve Bens mountains and the Atlantic ocean; you’ll feel as though you are in a fairytale when staying there! The rooftops of small cottages and shops hide among the trees as the two church steeples pierce the skyline.
A tourist friendly town with plenty of accommodation and food options, Clifden has great live music in pubs at the weekend. If you want to stay in the heart of rural Ireland in a town that specialises in catering for tourists, Clifden may be the spot for you.
Visit Galway City
One of my favourite things about living in the west of Ireland is that everything is so close together. It is just over 80km or about an hour and a half to get from Connemara National Park – Ireland’s natural beauty to the buzzing metropolitan area of Galway city.
While Galway city has all the modern features and amenities that you would expect, it also retains plenty of traditional Irish culture and entertainment, so visiting the area will reward you with an experience like no other.
Galway Travel Guides
Check out our Galway pub guide, Our Galway Food guide, our Galway event guide, and things to do in Galway all year round if you would like to make the most of your trip! Having lived in Galway city for an extended amount of time, I have done my best to curate guides that offer something for everyone.
When to go to Connemara/Galway:
Best weather: June to August are the warmest months of the year in Ireland. They also have the longest days of the year, which gives you more time to see everything you want during the day. Rain is common throughout the year so pack a rain jacket!
If you don’t mind chillier weather, attractions are much quieter during the spring and autumn months.
If you choose to go during the Winter you should definitely visit the Galway Christmas market. While the weather probably won’t be on your side, there is a really nice festive atmosphere in the city. Plus, the fact that it gets dark faster means that you can get away with going to the pub a bit earlier!
Ultimately I would recommend May to August for the best times to visit in terms of weather. May is usually a bit quieter than the rest of the summer months as schools are open until June, and the weather is fairly decent. From late July onwards into September there are plenty of festivals which are also worth a visit.
Summer will naturally be busier in Ireland. From September students will be back at Galway university so there will be a lively atmosphere in the city and pubs will be busy during the week. The temperatures will get colder but the weather rarely goes below freezing. The Autumn/Winter months will be less busy and hotel rates may be cheaper, but some tours and guides only operate in season.
The main decision is if you want to explore lots of locations or just relax in the city. For the latter you can visit the West at any time of the year, but I would recommend visiting while the Christmas Market is open. If you do want to see lots of nature and historical sites, the summer months offer you the best experience.
There are many Irish festivals events taking place in the city of Galway from July onwards, including:
- Galway Film Fleadh (July)
- Galway International Arts Festival (July)
- Galway Races (July-August)
- Galway International Oyster and Seafood Festival (September)
We hope you have enjoyed our article on Kylemore Abbey, the Victorian Walled Garden and its surrounding area.
If you have enjoyed our article, why not check out other blogs about castles in Ireland: