Mitchell Henry–doctor, tycoon, politician–fell in love with and married Margaret Vaughan in 1850. On their honeymoon they visited Connemara and stayed at a hunting lodge situated on 15,000 acres. She was so enamored with it that he returned in the 1860s to build Kylemore in the lodge’s place, and gave it to his beloved wife as a gift.
The couple had nine children and a happy life until tragedy struck when they vacationed in Egypt in 1874. Margaret succumbed to dysentery and died at the age of 45.
Over the years Kylemore passed through other hands, including those of the Duke of Manchester, whose unfortunate taste for gambling resulted in his bankruptcy at the age of 23. Great parties were held there, and distinguished guests like King Edward VII visited.
In 1920 Kylemore became home to a working community of monastic Benedictine nuns, who for almost 90 years ran an international boarding school on the premises. Part of their mission statement reads:
“We understand the gift of Simplicity as joyful trust and dependence on the goodness of God. As Benedictines, peace is both a well from which we drink and the fruit of our lives together. It is the greatest gift we can have and wish for each other. This peace of Christ is what we inherit and in turn pass on to others.”
That peace permeates Kylemore Abbey. Today visitors can see a portion of the ground floor of the Abbey and receive information about the building’s background from historian Joanne Smyth, perhaps the most impressive guide we were privileged to meet on our trip.
Moving outside, the Victorian Walled Garden is exquisite. Houses on the property are open for viewing. You can probably tell the difference between the workers’ lodging and that of the head gardener.
After leaving Kylemore Abbey we drove along Killary Fjord until we arrived at its head, Aasleagh Falls. The more adventurous of our crew hiked close to them, but I preferred to take a few photos, keeping my distance, and to await their return while reading in our rental car. After hearing that my daughter-in-law now knew what it was like to sink into a bog–however briefly–I was glad I had opted to dive into my book instead.