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) 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, billiard 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