Kylemore Abbey, a Gothic castle rising from the shores of a dark Irish lake, is almost impossibly romantic to look at. When people learn it was built as a country home in the late 1800s, they might be a little disappointed Kylemore isn’t actually a medieval site. Fortunately, this is Ireland, and romantic legends abound even in relatively young castles.
A Place of Legends
Before Kylemore, there were the ancient Irish legends. The abbey sits between two mountains: Diamond Mountain, which sparkles in the sunlight (from exposed quartz) and Duchruach Mountain, named Black Stack for its unusual black stone. These mountains were home to two rivals: the legendary Fionn mac Cumhaill on Diamond; Cu Chulainn on Duchruach.
Fionn mac Cumhaill is already famous for moving large stones to get the job done: he’s attributed with building the Giant’s Causeway because he wanted to fight another hero from Scotland. In this case, however, it was hero Cu Chulainn who left his mark. He threw a large rock at Fionn mac Cumhaill during one of their epic arguments, leaving behind a strange iron-shaped stone which today is on the grounds of Kylemore.
Like any good legend, there is wish-granting involved: stand with your back to The Ironing Stone and throw three pebbles over it while you make your wish.
One of the prettiest legends of Kylemore is the lake’s namesake. Pollacapall Lough is a stunning mirror for the abbey’s Gothic spires, but the name comes from ‘pol a capall,” which means Place of the Horse. Every seven years, the legend goes, a white horse arises from the lake in front of the abbey. In 2011, the Kylemore Abbey staff reported an actual sighting of the capall horse (non-believers will tell you it was wind whipping up whitecaps), so if you’re planning on visiting in 2018, maybe the horse will return while you’re there!
Kylemore Abbey’s Love Story
Kylemore’s modern history began with a love story. Two honeymooners visited the valley of Kylemore in the 1840s and fell in love with the landscape. Mitchell and Margaret Henry would return to the valley twenty years later and set about developing Kylemore Estate, a providing work, shelter and education for local residents, as well as building their dream home: the perfectly positioned Kylemore Castle.
A few years into their dream life at Kylemore, though, Margaret Henry passed away. In her honor, Mitchell Henry built the beautiful neo-Gothic church on the grounds of the estate. Designed as a tiny cathedral, the church’s ornate decoration features smiling angels instead of the traditional gargoyles. Today, visiting choirs perform throughout the year, along with Irish traditional music.
Kylemore Abbey Today
In the years since its love story passed into legend, Kylemore Castle became Kylemore Abbey, as home to an order of Benedictine nuns from Belgium. When Ypres Abbey was destroyed in World War One, they came to Kylemore and ran a boarding/day school, which remained open until 2010. Today, Kylemore Abbey plays host to summer university programs, and welcomes about a quarter of a million visitors a year.
The abbey’s first floor, neo-Gothic Church, mausoleum, Victorian Walled Garden, and woodland and shoreline walks are all open to the public.
Don’t miss the beauty of Kylemore Abbey on your Ireland vacation! Look for it on the itinerary of our Classic Ireland tour, which also explores Dublin, Galway, Killarney and Waterford. You can also visit from Galway using one of our convenient Ireland Fly & Drive packages, which include hotel accommodations, airfare and car rental.