Kylemore Abbey is a Benedictine monastery founded in 1920 for Benedictine Nuns who fled Belgium during World War I. It is located in Connemaraon in County Galway on the grounds of Kylemore Castle, which was built as a private home for the family of Mitchell Henry, a wealthy doctor from London, whose family was in textile manufacturing in Manchester, England.
He and his wife, Margaret, fell became so enchanted with the area when they visited on their honeymoon that they purchased the land around the Abbey. He became a politician, and was also a Member of Parliament for County Galway from 1871 to 1885. The castle was designed by James Franklin Fuller and Ussher Roberts, construction began in 1867 and took one hundred men four years to complete.
The castle covered approximately 40,000 square feet with over 70 rooms and at a cost of £18,000. The principal walls are two to three feet thick. The facade is made of granite brought from Dalkey by sea to Letterfrack and limestone from Ballinasloe. There were 33 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, 4 sitting rooms, a ballroom, a billiard room, a library, a study, a school room, a smoking room, a gun room and various offices and domestic staff residences for the butler, cook, housekeeper and other servants. Several other buildings include a Gothic cathedral and family mausoleum which contains the bodies of Margaret Henry, who tragically died during holiday in Egypt. She is accompanied by Mitchell Henry and a great grand nephew.
The Abbey remained in Henry’s estate until after he returned to England following the death of his wife and was sold to the Duke and Duchess of Manchester in 1909, they resided there for several years, before being forced to sell the house and grounds due to gambling debts. In 1920 the Irish Benedictine Nuns purchased the Abbey, castle and lands after they were forced to flee Ypres, Belgium during World War I. Previously the nuns, who had been based in Ypres for several hundred years, had been bombed out of their Abbey during World War I. The nuns continued to offer education to Catholic girls, opened an international boarding school and established a day school for local girls. They were forced to close the school in June 2010.
The Estate includes large walled Victorian Gardens, which have been open to public tours and “nature walks” since the 70s. The Benedictine community have restored the Abbey’s gardens and Cathedral with donations and local artisans in order to be a self-sustaining estate.