Saturday, 6 July 2013

Kylemore Abbey

Today we traveled south along the west coast of Ireland stopping at Connemara National Park to see Kylemore Abbey.

The Inagh Valley road winds its way through majestic heather covered mountains and around picturesque lakes. Along the south side of Killary Harbour is one of the best drives in Connemara. The ‘harbour’ is actually a fjord-like sea inlet, dominated by the mountain of Mweelrea.

A hunting lodge originally stood where the abbey is today and it is said that Mitchell Henry and his bride Margaret Vaughan, visited Connemara while on honeymoon in 1850. Margaret was so charmed by Connemara that Mitchell Henry returned and purchased the 15,000 acre estate as a romantic gift for her and created one of Ireland's most iconic castles. When the Henry's first visited the estate the tennants were recovering from a cholera epidemic which  had raged through the area during the first six months in 1849. This followed the already devastating Great Irish Famine of 1846-49 were over one third of the population of Connemara was lost as a result of starvation, fever and emigration.

The Henry's had nine children and enjoyed a happy and carefree life at Kylemore, but tragically Margaret was only going to enjoy her beautiful fairytale Castle for a brief time. In 1874 the family holidayed in Egypt and Margaret fell ill with dysentery. She died within 16 days at the age of 45. Mitchell Henry had her body brought to Kylemore and laid to rest in the grounds.

The castle and lands were sold to the Duke of Manchester for 63,000 pounds in 1903. Having been bankrupt at 23 from gambling it was his father in law a rich oil baron who funded the purchase of the Castle. The Duchess renovated the entire interior at a cost of 16,000 pounds ripping out all the fine gothic features. On the death of the Duchess's father the property again changed hands due to financial difficulties by Ernest Fawke who never took up residence.

In 1920 with the help of public loans the Castle and Estate were acquired for 45,000 pounds by a community of Benedictine Nuns known as the "Irish Dames". The nuns remain in residence today they run their farm and make handcrafted products. The nuns opened a school in 1923 attracting local and international students reaching 80 boarding and 120 day students in 1980's. The last exams were sat in 2010 when the school closed due to a drop in students numbers.

The most peaceful and picturesque setting

The church described as a "cathedral in minature" uniquely features internal columns comprising marble from each of the provinces of Ireland - Green from Connemara, Rose from Cork, Black from Kilkenny and Grey from Armagh. Gothic in style some of the features feminine instead of gargoyles there are smiling angles, flowers and birds.

One of the few cultivated gardens in an Irish Bog, using plants and flowers that were introduced to Ireland before 1901. The six acre walled garden contained 21 glass houses with a complex system of hot water pipes, pleasure and kitchen gardens. A stream running through the gardens divides the garden in two. Built on the south slope at the foot of Duchruach Mountain it was reputed to be a "regular sun trap", backing onto the mountain and facing Diamond Hill.

Driving westwards from Bearna, west of Galway City, is Ireland's largest Gaeltacht region. The area between Galway and Lettermore is considered Galway's cultural heartland and is rich in Irish heritage, culture and folklore. Driving along coast road, there is a striking variation in the landscape. On the left is the powerful Atlantic where the three Aran Islands of Inis Mór, Inis Meáin and Inis Oírr are in clear view. To your right is Connemara, a scenic vista of bogs, valleys and lakes whose spectacular intricate coastline encloses the dramatic Twelve Pins (Na Beanna Beola) and Maamturk Mountains. Quiet little roads wind through the majestic landscape and lead you from village to village.

Connemara Giant 
Lore passed down from time now forgot
Speaks of a giant on this very spot
It tells of a knowledge that all can embrace
Beyond the limits of time and of space
to capture the wisdom from ages lost
hold the land of the sage aloft

Lovely thatched cottages in Kinvarra

The local thatched hotel

Our home for the night Breacon B & B right on the shore

The neighbors house so lovely
The western part of Galway is a 'An Ghaeltacht', the Gaeltacht areas, meaning the first language is Irish. The people speak, work, and think in a language that has unbroken links with pre-conquest Gaelic Ireland and further back in time. 

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