Ireland is famous for its castles, and no adventure on the Emerald Isle is complete without spending a half-day or so exploring and admiring one of them. But with at least 30,000 scattered across the countryside, travel adventurists must pick and choose which to visit carefully. After all, they are not all hidden gems!
At Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Walled Garden, you can mix history with Irish tales of romance and tragedy connected to the castle’s storied past. One of Galey, Ireland’s most iconic attractions, the abbey was originally a fabulous castle. It sits gracefully on the shore of Lough Pollacappull at the base of Druchruach Mountain.
The whole family will enjoy touring the magnificent rooms and exploring the six acres of lovingly restored buildings at the Victorian Walled Garden. A short walk away from the Abbey, the Gothic church is an archeological gem. Nearby, original owners Mitchell and Margaret Henry rest forever side by side in the Mausoleum.
The 1,000-acre estate also features woodland walks, lakeshore strolls, nature trails, and a play trail for kids. Be sure to stop by Mitchell’s café for delicious home-cooked food and The Garden Tea House for freshly baked goodies. Then complete your visit by stopping in to shop at the Craft and Design Shop.
The former castle has over 70 fascinating rooms. Several restored rooms are open to the public that let you get a glimpse into the lives of Mitchell and Margaret Henry, the original owners, and their colorful successors. Other rooms are used to display the artifacts collections of the nuns and other residents of the abbey.
Visitors who have already been to Kylemore and visited before June of 2019 should consider another visit. Since that date, the abbey offers a Visitor’s Experience that uniquely brings to life the endearing stories of generations of people who have lived, worked, studied, and worshiped inside the granite walls. Their stories are told through historic photographs, audio-visuals, displays of artifacts, and more.
The self-guided experience uses an App, so you might need a bit of data. I always use a local Ireland eSIM when I travel, that way you avoid those insanely expensive roaming fees!
Back to the tour. It combines modern interpretative techniques with restored rooms and period décor on the abbey’s ground floor. A brochure with a map and guide is available in nine languages. Guides are available to answer questions about the abbey’s beginnings in the 1860s and how it evolved from a romantic gift to a Benedictine abbey in 1920. The upstairs of the building is a residence for the nuns and is closed to the public.
Things to see and do aren’t limited to the old castle and residence. The Victorian Walled garden with its six-acre labyrinth of gardens is easily one of the best to visit in Europe. It features a formal floral garden, a vegetable garden, an herb garden, fruit trees, shade ferns, greenhouses, and the famous head gardener’s house.
I enjoyed strolling across the grounds to the Neo-Gothic church built as a loving testament to Margaret Henry. I was saddened to learn that she contracted dysentery while on holiday with her family in Egypt. After 16 days, Margaret passed away at age 45 leaving behind nine children and a distraught husband who had the church built in her memory.
One thing I thought was very appropriate was that you can pay your respects to Kylemore’s first residents at the nearby Mausoleum. Mitch Henry brought his wife’s body back from Egypt in 1874 and had the Mausoleum built for her. When Mitchell died in the UK, his body was brought back to Kylemore Estates to rest in peace beside his beloved wife.
If you want to truly immerse yourself in the history of the Kylemore Abbey you should do what we did and participate in either a guided tour or history talk to learn more about the Abbey’s history.
The entrance hall, inner hall, middle room, drawing room, dining room, and audio-visual room are open to tours. You’ll learn that the wooden floors, oak paneling, fireplaces, and much of the furniture are original. The guides have a way of vibrantly bringing the past to life through their stories.
I found the guides very knowledgeable and had a lot of interesting tidbits to share in their history talks. They take place in the abbey’s front hall at the guides’ desk. The 20-minute talks are scheduled daily:
A tour of the Victorian Walled Garden takes about 30 minutes and doesn’t require booking. During June, July, and August, the garden tour is complimentary.
Kylemore Abbey is located in Connemara, an area of Ireland that Irish poets and playwrights described as “savage beauty.” Get immersed in its mysterious natural beauty with a guided hike above the abbey. The valley above is mountainous and the views over Connemara are magnificent. The guides have extensive knowledge of the estate’s history, geology, and wildlife. You’ll gain a deeper understanding of Kylemore Abbey’s history and the life of its past residents.
Many travelers love to explore different cultures through eating and shopping. If you’re a culture vulture, dining and shopping at Kylemore is a must. The estate has two cafés, an express coffee shop, and a craft and design shop. One café and the coffee shop
are named in honor of the original owners of the castle.
Mitchell’s Café has talented chefs that infuse locally sourced products from the area and the estate into their cooking. Home-cooked dishes like Irish stew and soups and home-baked bread and cakes are served buffet style. A salad counter features colorful, healthy salads made with herbs, greens, and veggies from the Victorian Walled Garden.
Henry’s Express Coffee Shop, open during the summer months, is the perfect place to grab a to-go coffee or tea. You can also sit for a delicious specialty sandwich, healthy salad, or a yummy treat like Kylemore Abbey homemade fudge. Or fill your picnic basket with items from the coffee shop.
The Tea House by the Walled Garden is a good place for a light lunch or a locally crafted brew after a hike. Stop in to smell and sample the divine home-baked scones and pastries along with a cup of herbal tea brewed with herbs from the garden.
The abbey has an awesome place to shop for unique gifts, souvenirs, housewares, and more. You’ll know why it’s called the Craft and Design Shop when you see the selection of merchandise. The shop features beautiful Abbey Fuchsia Pottery inspired by the Tears of God roadside wildflowers native to Connemara. You’ll also find food and beauty products handmade by the nuns in the old home economics classroom of the abbey. Choose from chocolates, baking mixes, soaps, candles, and skincare products. The staff will even arrange for your selections to be shipped home so you don’t have to travel with them.
Be sure to visit Connemara and the local area beyond Kylemore Abbey. It’s famous for the rugged beauty and kaleidoscope of peaceful lakes and windswept bogs surrounded by raw, rugged mountain peaks. The area includes the largest Gaeltacht-speaking regions in Ireland. It stretches from Killary Harbour to the pristine beaches of Galway Bay. Explore the nearby villages and breathtaking landscapes around Leenane, Chifden, and Letterfrack.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.