Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Walled Garden in Ireland

Kylemore Abbey in Connemara, County Galway, Ireland

During our recent trip to Ireland, Michael and I visited Kylemore Abbey and its lovely and historic Victorian walled garden.  The abbey is located in the Connemara region in the northwest of Ireland, an area known for its scenic beauty as well as its retention of traditional Gaelic language and culture.  This was our favorite part of Ireland with majestic mountains, gorgeous beaches, Caribbean blue water, peat bogs, Norman outposts, ruined cottages, hidden lakes (or loughs as they are called there), free-roaming sheep, and best of all, very few people.

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The abbey was carved into the side of the hills surrounding Lough Pollaacapull so that it could be perfectly reflected in the waters of the lake.  It was too windy the day we were there to capture the reflection!

Kylemore Abbey was built by Margaret and Mitchell Henry, a prominent London doctor of Irish descent.  When he inherited the family business in the late 1860s, he became one of the wealthiest men in Britain.  He bought what was then Kylemore Hunting Lodge and the surrounding 18,000 acres and built Kylemore Castle for his wife Margaret and their many children.  He gave up his medical practice and became a leading champion of the rights of the poor, representing Ireland as a Parliamentary MP in London. 


Today the castle is owned by an order of Benedictine nuns originally from Ypres, Belgium.  The history of how they arrived at Kylemore, as presented in the abbey museum, is fascinating.  Due to the suppression of religious houses in England, Benedictine Houses were founded in Belgium, starting in 1598.  The current owners of Kylemore originated from a Benedictine House formed in 1665 in Ypres to provide a religious community for Irish women persecuted in Ireland.  The Ypres Abbey attracted the daughters of Irish nobility and enjoyed the patronage of many influential Irish families.  When Ypres Abbey was destroyed in the early days of World War One, the nuns sought refuge in England, and in 1920 were given Kylemore Castle as their new home.


The view from Kylemore Abbey to Lough Pollaacapull and the surrounding hills is spectacular.

After they arrived at Kylemore, which then became an abbey instead of a castle, the nuns reopened their international boarding school and started a day school for local girls, which closed in 2010.  Today, the nuns make soap and delicious chocolate sold at the abbey gift shop and oversee the workings of the historic estate and gardens. The ground floor of Kylemore Abbey is a museum that preserves the furnishings of the Henry family, telling their story, and documenting the nuns flight from Ypres as well as the history of their school—it is well worth a visit. 


The main gate of the Victorian walled garden at Kylemore Abbey.  The walls are made of brick and granite to absorb heat and shelter the garden from wind and frost as well as the sheep that roam freely all over the Connemara region.  The tricolor beds planted in stripes were a common Victorian garden feature called a ribbon bed.

The Kylemore Victorian walled garden, built at the same time as the castle, covers six acres and once contained 21 heated glass houses and employed 40 gardeners.  It was so advanced for its time that it was compared favorably to Kew Gardens in London.  However, over the years it declined so that by 1995 it was completely overgrown with brambles and trees and most of the glass houses were destroyed.  The Benedictine nuns began an extensive renovation that year based on historic photos from the 1870s as well as the structures and topography revealed when the encroaching plants were cleared.  The garden reopened in 2000, recapturing most of its former glory.  It is planted with exclusively Victorian plant varieties using Victorian garden designs.


Apple and pear trees are espaliered inside the walls.


The garden is in two parts divided by a mountain stream.  This photo shows the eastern half, which contains the formal flower garden, the glass houses, the tool shed, and the living quarters for the gardeners.


The typical formality of a Victorian garden.


a renovated glass house


remains of some of the other glass houses


fruit storage and potting shed


The tool shed contains tools and other relics recovered during renovation.


A window in the “bothy” where the garden laborers lived.  Employees at Kylemore Abbey were well paid during a time of desperate poverty in Ireland.


The head gardener’s house was preserved and shows the respected position he held at the estate.


The house is prominently positioned at the top of the garden, giving the head gardener a good view over the garden and its workers.  The inside of the house shows the privileged lifestyle of the head gardener’s family.


The mountain stream, which divides the two halves of the garden.  The trees and plants surrounding it provide a shady retreat.





I was particularly taken by this rodgersia along the stream.  I was unable to find out its exact name or species.


The western half of the garden houses the vegetable garden, herbaceous border, fruit trees, a rockery, and herb garden


the orchard


the perennial garden


rhubarb patch


No matter what direction you look, the garden is surrounded by mountains.


Next up a look at a few more interesting aspects of the Connemara region—peat bogs, invasive plants, sheep farming, and beaches.



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18 Responses to “Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Walled Garden in Ireland”

  1. Debra Lortie Says:

    Thank you so much for sharing not only the gorgeous gardens of Kylemore Abbey but the interesting history as well. I used to live in Ireland. Connemara is one of my favorite places!! Such rugged beauty!

    • Debra, Taking the rich and detailed history of the place and condensing down to a few paragraphs was just as difficult as reducing over 90 photos to the about 30 that I used. I am so happy that readers enjoyed the post enough to comment as it’s a lot of work. Carolyn

  2. Lovely way to wake up this Sunday morning. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Great post Carolyn. You might want to check out Terra Nova Nurseries online. They show a Rodgersia “Bronze Peacock” that looks a lot like the one you saw. – Karen

  4. I really enjoyed this -mail. Makes us want to go to Ireland. Thank you.

  5. Hello Carolyn,
    It looks like a wonderful garden, really well maintained, and apparently deserted of visitors in your photos, which makes it even better to appreciate I guess! We’re toying with getting over to Ireland for a holiday for the first time next year, so interesting to hear that this area was your favourite bit.
    best wishes
    Julian & Fiona

    • So nice to hear from you, Julian! Michael and I did love the Connemara region and it was pretty deserted. Kylemore was not crowded compared to what we are used to in the States. Most people go to the Abbey only and skip the garden. There were a bunch of tour buses in the parking lot as we were leaving so I think getting there early helps. We loved the empty landscape with just peat bogs, mountains, and sheep. The coast and the beaches were absolutely gorgeous and right next to the mountains. We may be over in February 2020. Carolyn

  6. Many thanks for bringing back such happy memories, we were there about 18 years ago and really enjoyed the Abbey and the gardens. We too had lovely weather when we were there and were able to enjoy the fantastic scenery. The history of the place is quite amazing, I must now find my old photos and see how much the garden has changed over the years.

  7. Thousands of miles away, and there is fleabane! Do you happen to know if it is Californian? (Third picture from the bottom.)

    • There are evidently several hundred species of fleabane from many places in the world, not sure about California but there are many types native to the US.

      • Well, if there are several hundred, it is unlikely that yours is Californian. It does not look like it, since Californian natives should have smaller flowers. Of the natives here, I believe that the garden varieties are cultivars of only two species.

  8. Bonjour !
    This garden is very large…Very pretty.
    Beautiful garden, beautifuls photos
    I know Cork …
    ( My english is bad, sorry )

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