Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey ( Irish: Mainistir na Coille Móire) is a Benedictine monastery founded in 1920 on the grounds of Kylemore Castle, in Connemara, County Galway, Ireland. The abbey was founded for Benedictine Nuns who fled Belgium in World War I. Prior to Kylemore becoming an Abbey, it was built as a Castle and private home for the family of Mitchell Henry, a wealthy politician from Manchester, England who was also MP for Galway County from 1871 to 1885. Architects were James Franklin Fuller and Ussher Roberts. The first stone was laid in 1867. One hundred men were employed a day to construct the castle which took four years to complete with construction costs coming to a little over £29,000. The Castle covered approximately 40,000 square feet (3,700 m 2) with over 70 rooms and the principal wall was two to three feet thick. The facade measured 142 feet (43 m) in length and is made of granite brought from Dalkey by sea to Letterfrack and limestone from Ballinasloe. There were 33 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, 4 sitting rooms, ballroom, billard room, library, study, school room, smoking room, gun room and various offices and domestic staff residences for the butler, cook, housekeeper and other servants. In 1920, Kylemore became an Abbey and is the oldest of the Irish Benedictine Abbeys. The Community of nuns, who have resided here for 189 years, have a long history stretching back almost three hundred and forty years. Founded in Ypres, Belgium, in 1665, the purpose of the Abbey at Ypres was to provide an education and religious community for Irish women during times of persecution here in Ireland. Down through the centuries, Ypres Abbey attracted the daughters of the Irish nobility, both as students and postulants, and enjoyed the patronage of many influential Irish families living in exile. The Community were forced to leave their beautiful Abbey in Ypres, just as the first shells began to fall on it during World War I. After several years of searching, and with the assistance and blessings of the Archbishop of Tuam, the Community eventually settled on Kylemore Castle in December 1920. Content in the peace and tranquillity of Connemara, all rights and privileges of the Ypres Abbey were transferred to Kylemore by the Holy See, and so the Castle became an Abbey. Here the nuns opened an international boarding school and established a day school for local girls, which closed in June 2010. Since the 70’s, the Benedictine Community have opened their Abbey and Estate to the public and now Kylemore has become known as a must see when visiting the West of Ireland. Visitors are invited to enter the Abbey where four rooms have been sympathetically restored. Visitors can experience the character and atmosphere of the castle and enjoy the breathtaking views the large picture windows which capture and frame the majestic landscape. The beautiful Gothic Church was built by Mitchell Henry in the memory of his beloved wife Margaret Henry who died only fours years after the castle was constructed. The Church was designed by Architect James Franklin Fuller who also designed the famous Ashford Castle in Cong, Co.Mayo. Work began on the church in 1877 but it was not completed until 1881. The Church was designed to be a ‘cathedral in miniature’ and the interior is said to have been suggested by the beautiful Chapel of St Stephen’s at Westminster. The grey exterior is contrasted by the highly decorative cream caen sandstone interior. Set against the cream sandstone are marble pillars from the different provinces of Ireland; the green marble of Connemara ( Connaught), the red marble of Cork ( Munster), the black marble of Kilkenny (Leinster) and the grey marble from Ulster. Incorporated in the south transept is a beautiful stained glass tracery window with images depicting Fortitude, Faith, Charity, Hope and Chastity. At the front of the Altar, there was a trap door through which coffins could be lowered to the vaults below. However, it is said that Mitchell Henry could not bear to place his beloved wife beneath the ground so she was laid to rest in the mausoleum further along the avenue. Three of the Benedictine Community were buried in the vaults before the door was sealed closed. Over the years, erosion caused by excess dampness, left the Church in poor condition. In 1991, the nuns began restoring the building. The European Regional Development Fund, together with bank loans and donations from benefactors and friends, financed the restoration work. President Mary Robinson re-opened the restored Church on 28th April 1995. The restoration work received the prestigious AIB Better Ireland Heritage Award in 1998. Visitors can experience some of the breath-taking landscape and serenity en-route from the Abbey to Gothic Church along the tranquil lakeshore walk. Margaret Henry died tragically while on a family holiday in Egypt, in 1874. She had fallen ill with dysentery and died within 16 days of contracting the disease. She was only 45 years old. Her remains were brought back to Kylemore and laid to rest in the Mausoleum on the grounds. When Mitchell Henry died in 1910, his ashes were brought back to Kylemore and laid to rest next to his beloved wife, Margaret, in the mausoleum in the grounds of their dream home. One mile west of the main Abbey building are the 6-acre (24,000 m 2) Victorian Walled Gardens, built by Mitchell Henry at the same time as the construction of Kylemore Castle between 1867 and 1871. This garden was one of the last walled gardens to be built during the Victorian period in Ireland and is the only garden in Ireland that is located in the middle of a bog. The garden was so advanced for the time that it was even compared with Kew Gardens in London. Huge engineering feats were successfully employed to heat the 21 glasshouses that were originally built to house exotic fruits and plants. These glasshouses were heated by three boilers, one of which doubled as a limekiln, and a complex system of underground hot-water pipes measuring 1,538 meters (5,000 ft) in length. However, in later years, under the ownerships of The Duke and Duchess of Manchester and then Ernest Fawke, the garden went into decline. In time the Flower Garden became a wilderness and the glasshouses collapsed, leaving only their brick bases. In 1996, the Benedictine Community, who have always used the garden, began restoration works with the help of grant aid, large bank loans and the generosity of donors. To date, two of the glasshouses have been rebuilt along with the Head Gardener’s House and Workman’s Bothy. The Garden was re-opened in 1999 and won the prestigious Europa Nostra Award in 2002. Uniquely, only plants and vegetables which grew in Victorian times are grown in the garden today. Currently, there is a vinery, banana trees, vegetables and herbs that are used in the restaurant for lunch as well as a beautiful array of plants and flowers. There are walks signposted around the main gardens with details about each of the highlights just mentioned and another that brings you outside the garden walls and back to the Tea Rooms. A shuttle bus runs every 15 mins to the Garden from the Visitor Centre or alternatively, visitors may take the 20 minute woodland walk to reach them. The Tea Rooms have recently been re-opened and serves refreshments with freshly homemade delights from May to September for visitors to sample whilst enjoying the view of the magnificent Diamond Hill. The name Kylemore originates from the Irish words Coill Mhór ”“ meaning Great Wood. Today Kylemore Abbey and the estate are open to visitors all year and the main areas to be visited are; the Abbey, the Gothic Church, the Victorian Walled Gardens, the Craft Shop, Pottery studio, Restaurant and Tea Rooms as well as the Lake and Woodland walks.

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