Ireland is a country of castles. In fact, the Emerald Isle has so many castles that on each day of our Ireland road trip, we saw no fewer than two castles per day, just chilling by the side of the road. Many of these castles date back to the 1400s!
As our car chugged towards the turrets of famed Kylemore Abbey in Connemara, County Galway, medieval tales bounced through my head. Little did I know how wrong I was about the building’s history!
We strapped the baby into his carrier, and dashed through the rain to the Visitor Center, where I snagged an informational booklet.
“Oh my gosh, Colin!” I gasped to my husband, who was busy making a funny, “B-b-b-b” sound by bouncing Devi’s chin. “Did you know this castle is basically a spring chicken? It was completed in 1871, not medieval times!”
Devi echoed my shock, replying: “B-b-b-b-thpt!”
“It’s a crazy story,” I continued, reading from the brochure as we began to walk through the Abbey. “This castle was actually built as a private residence by a doctor from London named Michell Henry. Can you imagine commissioning a castle for our family? Hey, maybe we should. This says that some of the walls are three feet thick. That would really keep out the noise of the neighbors next door who like to party!”
We pranced around the ornate rooms, admiring the sun slanting through the drapes.
“Get this,” I continued. “There are 33 bedrooms here, but only 4 bathrooms! There’s also a smoking room and a gun room. Oh my. In 1909, Henry sold the estate to a Duke and Duchess, but they had to sell it due to gambling debts. Then in 1920, a gang of Irish Benedictine Nuns pooled their money to buy the building so they would have a place to stay after being bombed out of Belgium in World War I. These illustrious nuns turned the building into an international boarding school for girls, which lasted until 2010!”
“How do the nuns fund the upkeep of this giant place?” Colin asked, ogling the ornate wallpaper.
I read the board on the wall. “In 1970, the nuns opened the grounds for tours. This, plus donations and local artisans keep this place afloat. Hey — it says there’s a beautiful gothic cathedral a ten minute walk that way on the grounds. Let’s go see it!”
As we trudged along the lake path, the rain blasted our faces sideways, pooling in icy rivulets down my neck. The church came into view and we started jogging to get warm faster. Two fluffy sheep with red branding marks looked up at the bumbling humans before returning to munch more grass.
“Those sheep did a better job dressing for the weather than we did!” I gasped, remembering our umbrellas, sitting foolishly back in the car. Those of you who were surprised by the bright sun we got for our Burren tour, you were right that we lucked out that day!
Oh, how glad we were that we decided to look inside Kylemore Abbey’s gothic church! The church was built in the late 1800s by Mitchell Henry to honor the memory of his wife, Margaret, who died after catching dysentery on their vacation in Egypt. She was 45 years old, and had nine children. Because of the sentiment behind the lovely building, this church at Kylemore Abbey is like the Taj Mahal of Ireland: a gorgeous temple to the memory of a great love.
We spent a while in this church, soaking up its calming atmosphere. The compact size holds you in a hug, and each window is different. The expression on Devi’s face, below, sums up how we felt.
We began to walk back along the lake, clutching each other against the rain-wind. (Is there an official word for that sideways, gusting rain?) It’s only now as I look back at the Kylemore Abbey website that I see something that adds magic to that chilly scene. According to the “Local Legends” section of the website, there is a folktale that every seven years, a glorious white horse rises out of the lake in front of the Abbey and gallops across the water. Squinting at the foamy white mist above the lake that day, was that the magical horse that I saw???
At this point, dear reader, I have an embarrassing confession. We skipped out before seeing the famed Victorian Walled Garden of Kylemore Abbey. Don’t slap me, please! Devi was on the verge of a hunger-induced rage-fest, and we are wimps about standing in a garden, drenched in rain. On a positive note, this just gives us a good excuse to come back to Ireland and see the gardens! I’ve heard they are absolutely stunning, and I do love a good garden.
So what about you? Had you heard of Kylemore Abbey before reading this? Have you visited? How was it? If you haven’t, does this seem like the kind of place you’d enjoy checking out? What do you make of the history and details? Do share!
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