Kylemore Abbey and the Connemara

After 3 days in “the wrong Newport,” it was time for me to move on to Galway, my next destination. I had passed around Galway on my way north to Newport, and found a secondary road through the Connemara region to return with different scenery. Slowly, my confidence in driving on the left side of the road (and having the center line beside me on the RIGHT) was growing. But I had chosen rural Ireland deliberately, unsure of my ability to adapt to a new style of driving.

Galway was not a great distance from Newport—about 2 hours, depending on any stops I found along the way. I continued to be impressed with the lack of traffic on just about every route I chose, even the “motorways,” which are 4-lane divided freeways. That is even more evident on the secondary roads, where I could occasionally find a place to pull over for a photo or two. I had been advised by several people in Newport to drive through the Connemara region, skirting the west coast, and said to be particularly scenic. One place I really enjoyed finding was a small stone bridge over a creek with a wide gravel area just before the bridge—a good place to stop the car. I walked onto the bridge to a beautiful pastoral scene below—a creek bordering pastures of sheep with their new lambs, with each of the fields separated by stone walls and old gates. The little farm had a small stone barn, and I just stood on the bridge and watched the sheep grazing, and the lambs playing in little packs.

Standing on a small stone bridge over the stream, just watching the sheep grazing

Small rocky stream, bordered by stone-walled pastures with sheep

At a small dock for boat rides on a lake, I notice this sign

Back on the road, with a 100 km/hour posted speed limit, I quickly ran into open range sheep, grazing right beside the roadway. That put me into the 70 km/hour range, afraid of a sudden move from one of the sheep toward the road. For the first time, I passed through foothills that were not green—but brown and rocky, and mostly barren. Soon, though, the deep green pastures reappeared, and then I saw a glimpse of a big castle across a lake, just before I saw the turn-off for Kylemore Abbey. In no particular hurry, I pulled into the nearly-full parking lot, paid my admission to the Abbey and formal gardens, and began to explore.

Driving through Connemara, with free range sheep grazing along the roadway

Sheep just at the side of the roadway, too close for high speed

There were only a couple of rooms open for viewing in the Abbey, and it was attached to an active cloister of Benedictine nuns, who have owned and run the Abbey since 1920. The order fled Belgium during WWI, when they were bombed out of their convent there, and found a former private castle. Until 2010, they ran a boarding school for girls there, and since the 1970s the Abbey and formal gardens have been open to the public, who are charged admission to provide for the upkeep and restoration of the Abbey and gardens.

First view of Kylemore Abbey

The front facade and tower

A longer view of the Abbey, being restored on the far side

The Abbey, beside the more modern boarding school and cloister of the Benedictine nuns

The original builders were the Henrys in 1867, he a wealthy doctor from London who later became a member of the Irish parliament, representing County Galway. The castle was built as a private home, and took 4 years to construct with 100 workers—33 bedrooms (and only 4 bathrooms), with over 40,000 square feet of interior space.

The formal dining room

Fireplace detail in the dining room

Dr. Henry was widowed suddenly during a trip with his wife to Egypt, when his wife, Margaret, contracted dysentery and died 16 days later, leaving behind 9 children. In her memory, he had built a miniature Neo-Gothic church and mausoleum to keep her always nearby. The church is said to be “graceful and feminine, with birds and flowers throughout,” a mix of English architecture and Italian workmanship. (Dr. Henry was also laid to rest in the mausoleum, with his beloved Margaret again)

Margaret, the late wife of Dr. Henry

The Neo-Gothic Church built in memory of Margaret

Church interior

Main window of the church

Years later he returned to London with his family, and sold the property to the Duke and Duchess of Manchester in 1909. They lived there only a few years, as the house changed hands once again when the Duke, an inveterate gambler, bet the ownership of the castle on a single hand of cards—and lost. A few years later, the Benedictine order purchased the castle, and opened their boarding school.

After finishing my walk around the Abbey and visiting the Gothic church nearby, I returned to the visitor center to wait for the bus ride to the formal gardens. They are located about a mile from the castle, and are perfectly groomed and expertly planted. I could see that there will be spectacular displays of flowers in a few more weeks, but early May was a bit too soon for all of the spring plantings to have been at their best.

Overview of a portion of the formal gardens, with a greenhouse at the back

Some of the beds were recently planted for spring

A second area of the garden, with a vegetable garden and orchards of fruit-bearing trees

Near the bus stop, a play station for children

Soon I returned to the bus and to the parking lot, and was on my way to Galway, my next destination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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