Mitchell Henry was in love. And he built this sprawling castle for his young wife Margaret.
Nestled into this hillside in the Connemara region of Ireland’s County Galway, Mitchell’s 40,000-square-foot castle not only testifies to a man’s love for his wife, but it also belies the tragic end that befell his family.
Mitchell Henry, born 1826, was a physician from a British family that made a fortune in textiles. He married Margaret Vaughan, an Irishwoman from County Down, in 1852 and on their honeymoon discovered the beauty of Connemara. They resolved to live there.
It took a while to secure this 13,000-acre site and build this castle. Sources disagree about exact timing, but it appears to have been completed around 1870.
Inside are 33 bed and dressing rooms, four bathrooms, four sitting rooms, a ballroom, a billiard room, a library, a study, and various other rooms including offices and residences for staff and servants.
Henry built and appointed his castle largely with materials from around Ireland: oak, marble, granite.
This was the height of living in Ireland in its time: formal, elegant, sumptuous.
It wasn’t clear to us whether the furniture was original to the house, but it seemed at least to suit the castle in its time.
The formal dining room was on the opposite side of the house from the kitchen. At that time, it was considered unpleasant for kitchen smells to reach the dining room.
Of the rooms available to tour, the dining room shows best the detail work evident throughout the castle.
Kylemore Castle was and is in remote country. The nearest major town, Galway, is about 80 km away. You can get there by car in 90 minutes today, but it would have taken much, much longer in the late 1800s. This estate would have to be self-sufficient. Mitchell had a gravity-fed running water supply built from a lake higher up the mountain, and even used the running water to generate electricity for the estate. An 8½-acre garden provided flowers, fruits, and vegetables of even exotic varieties — its greenhouse grew bananas! The garden operates today, and I’ll share photos in an upcoming post.
Margaret Henry fell ill while on a trip to Egypt in 1875, and died. She was but 45, and left behind their nine children. Heartbroken, Mitchell could no longer bear to live at Kylemore. He kept the estate going, however, and built a stunning monument and final resting place for his wife, which I will share in an upcoming post.
Mitchell Henry died in 1910. In the end, nuns of the Benedictine order bought the estate and established an abbey and girl’s school there. The school operated until 2010; today, the nuns offer other educational and retreat opportunities here. And they continue to open the site to tourists, for which it is certainly best known.
Canon PowerShot S95
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