There is something so captivating about the broken terracotta pots scattered, and shattered artfully outside of the garden greenhouse at Kylemore Abbey.
Some may walk by these broken pots, and not realize the story they once contained. The fractured vessel represents a growth that could no longer be contained, one that slowly introduced itself to me as I wandered through the rest of the garden.
The time and care it takes to curate this growth is not only visually pleasing; it is nourishment for the soul both spiritually and physically. The vegetables and herbs planted here are all used in the delightful menu at the café and tearoom located in the gardens.
Gardens and Site
The wonderful 6-acre Victorian Walled Garden is Ireland’s largest, with its delightfully restored garden buildings. There are formal flower, vegetable and herb gardens to behold. You will also discover woodland and lakeshore walks that will take you on a beautiful journey through the 1000-acre estate.
Positioned at the foot of Connemara National Park in the county of Galway, Ireland, the gardens are part of the beautiful landscape of Kylemore Abbey.
Romance and Castle History
The years of the castle’s history speak to visitors through stories of romance and tragedy.
In 1852, the wealthy businessman, Mitchell Henry and his new bride, Margaret Vaughan, were on honeymoon in Connemara. The couple were celebrating with an al fresco lunch in the townland of Kylemore.
As they sat, Margaret commented on how beautiful the area was, and how amazing it would be to live there. 13 years later, the remarkable castle retreat, overlooking a glassy Connemara lake, was constructed.
Mitchell Henry was a financier, politician and Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. He was MP for County Galway from 1871 to 1885, and for Glasgow Blackfriars and Hutchesontown from 1885 to 1886.
He had the castle built which boasted ‘all the innovations of the modern age’. He was said to be an enlightened landlord and a vocal supporter of the Irish people. Henry poured his life’s energy into creating an estate that would showcase what could be achieved in the remote wilds of Connemara.
Construction of the castle began in 1867, and took 100 men 4 years to complete. The castle covered approximately 40,000 square feet (3,700 m2) and had over 70 rooms with a principal wall that was 2 to 3 feet thick.
The facade measured 142 feet (43 m) in width and is made of granite brought from Dalkey by sea to Letterfrack, and of limestone brought from Ballinasloe. There were 33 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, 4 sitting rooms, a 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.
It is said that the couple lived at Kylemore Castle happily with their 9 children for over 10 years.
Tragically in 1875, on a visit to Egypt, Margaret contracted a fever and died. Mitchell was heartbroken and he tended to avoid Kylemore as much as possible after her untimely death.
He did, however, build his beloved wife a wonderful memorial: a neo-Gothic church. It’s such a unique and special building nestled closely to the stunning mountain landscape, and serves as a lasting testament to the true love between Mitchell Henry and his wife, Margaret.
Mitchell Henry joined his wife there when he died in 1910. Together they rest in the small mausoleum that is tucked beside the church at Kylemore.
By 1920 the castle became home to Ireland’s only Benedictine community of nuns. If walls could talk, they would whisper, ‘you’re not alone in this world that battles with spiritual identity’.
The life represented in the garden through each season is a beautiful reminder of our own seasons of life; breaking free from that which contains us, and pruning away those things that are holding us back.
As I began my journey beyond the broken containers and into the garden, a light mist of rain began falling, giving nourishment to the plants and life around me.
The air was filled with the fresh aroma of peat. This rich soil is also formed into briquettes and used for fire logs. I became lost in the visual delight of each corner of this trek behind the garden walls, while trying to capture each moment before it escaped.
Café and Tea room
You can enjoy wholesome food and delicious home-baking in their Café or Garden Tea House.
You’ll also find handcrafted gifts including Kylemore Abbey Pottery and award-winning chocolates handmade by the Benedictine nuns.
My garden trail journey ended with me enjoying the magnificent view of Connemara National Park while sipping a cup of tea made from the herbs grown in the beautiful Victorian Walled Garden.
Simply writing about this journey falls short of the spiritual connection one may experience in this stunning landscape. I encourage everyone who has the opportunity to visit the area and embark upon their own adventure at Kylemore Abbey.