Kylemore Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Connemara founded in 1920 for Belgian nuns fleeing World War I, has long been a place of interest for tourists to the west of Ireland.
This year, however, the stakes have been increased: A new Visitor Experience has opened in the opulent surrounds of the Abbey, telling the stories of the many generations of people who have lived, worked, studied and prayed inside its thick granite walls.
The building itself, immaculate and intimidatingly majestic, was built for the wife of a wealthy industrialist and philanthropist in 1868. Kylemore Castle, as it was then known, went on to have a history of romance, innovation, tragedy, spirituality and education.
Following the tragic death of his wife and daughter, the original owner, Mitchell Henry, sold it to the 9th Duke of Manchester and his glamorous American heiress wife who carried out huge changes to the interior, leaving the building about ten years later after accruing piles of debt.
The next major phase was the arrival of the Benedictine nuns who fled their bomb shelled Abbey in Ypres Belgium during the opening months of WW1. One hundred years later, the Benedictine nuns are still in residence in Kylemore and welcome many visitors every year to share in the beauty of their Connemara estate.
The new Visitor Experience brings these stories to life with the use of historical photographs, audio-visual presentations, displays of artefacts from the Kylemore artefacts, historical costumes and restored period rooms.
The grounds also contain Ireland’s second most visited gardens: The Walled Gardens, situated in the heart of the Kylemore woods overlooking Connemara National Park.
It features formal flower beds, a Victorian parterre, restored glasshouses, gardeners Bothy and Head Gardener’s House, as well as extensive vegetable and herb gardens.
Another site must-see is the heavenly neo-Gothic Church, an architectural gem with unique carved interiors, vaulted ceilings and an ambience of quiet beauty. Open all year round, Kylemore is, as its marketers say, an “unforgettable day out suitable for all the family and one of Ireland’s must do destinations”.