Mitchell Henry was in love. And he built this sprawling castle for his young wife Margaret.

Kylemore Abbey

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.

Kylemore Abbey

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.

At Kylemore Abbey

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.

Kylemore Abbey

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.

Kylemore Abbey

Henry built and appointed his castle largely with materials from around Ireland: oak, marble, granite.

Kylemore Abbey

This was the height of living in Ireland in its time: formal, elegant, sumptuous.

Kylemore Abbey

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.

Kylemore Abbey

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.

Kylemore Abbey

Of the rooms available to tour, the dining room shows best the detail work evident throughout the castle.

Kylemore Abbey

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.

Kylemore Abbey

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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11 responses to “The tragic story of Kylemore Castle”

  1. J P Cavanaugh Avatar

    1870 seems quite late by Irish castle standards. There can’t have been many built since. It is stunning in the pictures, so can only imagine the effect in person.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Well, this castle wasn’t part of a feudal system. It was just an enormous mansion for a wealthy family! This was probably the most visually stunning place we visited in all of Ireland.

  2. myeye1 Avatar

    Beautiful castle and lovely photos

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you!

  3. Liz C. Avatar

    I really love the first picture, Jim. You’ve captured the castle wonderfully. I most especially love the reflection effect. The entire image is beautiful.

    Thanks for taking us on a journey to another place and time through your post. <3

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The photos I shot of it on b/w film are even stronger! Here’s one:

      1. Liz C. Avatar

        Ohhhh! You’re such a good photographer!!!

  4. Moni Avatar

    great post! I want to make sure I go there when I visit Ireland again!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      oh yes! Be sure you go! It’s a remarkable place.

  5. Michael Avatar

    With that intro I was expecting a story more along the lines of Neuschwanstein! ;)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The Irish know tragedy well, but nobody can touch the Germans for their creativity in expressing it!

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