On our second day in Connemara, after a stressful 4 hour drive from Dublin straight to County Galway (where we may or may not have run off the road several times), we skipped setting an alarm and slept in until almost 10. The king bed at Rosleague Manor was heavenly, the blankets kept us cozy and one look at the drizzly rain outdoors made us question whether we even wanted to leave the room!
Still, we had planned to visit Kylemore Abbey and after seeing countless photos of the grand Victorian castle overlooking the river, I knew we had to visit.
We also quickly realized that Connemara, Ireland is pretty much perpetually rainy. It’s beautiful in all its gloomy glory and so long as you dress appropriately for the unpredictable Irish weather and rent your own car, you’ll have the freedom to stop and go as the rain pauses.
Here’s a look at what we saw at Kylemore Abbey, in photos!
I highly recommend the hotel we stayed at. Rosleague Manor is a charming and cozy Irish mansion converted by the family into a hotel. Each room is unique – ours was huge with a king size bed, sitting area, soaking tub and long hallway. With charming French waiters at dinnertime, the friendliest dogs and a prime location, it’s worth a stay! I wrote a more in-depth review of the hotel in this post.
Compare room rates on Booking.com or Read reviews on Tripadvisor
Connemara is stunningly beautiful but also pretty gloomy. There’s a large, national park famous for its bogland, bird watching and ponies and we were glad we took the scenic drive through the area. It felt very ‘Skyfall’ like – I know the movie was shot in Scotland but it looks just like that!
Visiting Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore Castle is always at the top of any list about Ireland’s top attractions so I was really excited to visit. I also love castles.
When we pulled up, we parked in the outer lot and walked over to the main castle. Unfortunately we found out not only was the exterior under construction but 99% of the interior is closed to the public! There are about 3 public rooms that are decorated in their period style, a garden to walk through and a side chapel but other than that, it was a short visit. Semi disappointing!
A Brief History of Kylemore Castle
The castle was originally built by Mitchell Henry, a wealthy doctor from Manchestor who amassed a fortune in textile manufacturing. He and his bride visited Connemara on their honeymoon and she fell in love with the area so he purchased the 15,000 acre estate as a gift for her.
He hired over 100 men to build the 40,000 square feet large castle and outfitted it with 70+ rooms, a miniature cathedral and Victorian walled garden – it took over 4 years to complete.
The story gets pretty tragic from here. Not soon after Kylemore Castle was complete, the Henrys visited Egypt on holiday, where his wife caught dysentery and died. Her body is laid to rest at Kylemore’s mausoleum, which visitors can also tour.
Benedictine Nuns arrive
The castle changed hands a couple times until it was purchased by Benedictine nuns seeking a new home after their original monastery in Flanders became unsafe during World War I. These nuns have lived at Kylemore Abbey since the 1920s!
As the nuns have a tradition of education, Irish nobility began sending their daughters to be educated at Kylemore and the reception rooms and bedrooms were transformed into an international boarding school. Two Indian princesses studied there in the 1930s!
Eventually as society changed, less students attended and the building was no longer modern enough to be safe so the school closed. Just the nuns live in it today.
The Walled Victorian Garden
Kylemore Abbey operates the largest Victorian English style garden in Ireland. You can either walk ~20 minutes to the garden area or take advantage of the shuttle bus. It’s quite a pretty space with gardeners’ cottages, a working vegetable patch and little streams. I thought the gardens were very pretty and peaceful!
Kylemore Abbey is open 7 days a week, all year round with daily bus tours from Galway City’s bus station.
If I remember correctly, we purchased tickets online in advance for a slight discount!
Have you ever been let down by an attraction?
Visiting Ireland – Travel Checklist
Aer Lingus, the national Irish airline, offers non-stop flights from select US cities. Weirdly enough, on both departure and return flights we were passed over for meal service at every possible meal. Needless to say, we did not have the most pleasant flight or experience good customer service (then again, flying is never pleasant these days.)
Two reasons to recommend Aer Lingus: low fares, some non stop, from many US cities and their pre-clearance facilities. We found cheap flights to Ireland in October – you can check for flight deals and routes here.
When returning to the U.S., take advantage of the U.S. pre-clearance facilities at Dublin and Shannon airports, where you complete U.S. immigration, customs and agriculture controls before departure so that when you land in the U.S., you can just collect your bags.
I highly recommend staying at an Irish country house or family run hotel during your trip. Irish hospitality is truly something else. Check out Ireland's Blue Book for luxury, boutique accommodation with a focus on family-run properties and excellent food.
Lastly, be sure to visit Ireland with travel insurance. Whether you get injured and need to be hospitalized, or your phone gets stolen, or delayed flight leaves you with nothing but the clothes on your back, travel insurance will help when you need it most. Hurricane Ophelia hit Ireland smack in the middle of our road trip and nearly blew our mini rental car away! Get a quote for your trip here.
You Might Also Enjoy:
Ireland Vacation Planning Articles
Itinerary, Tips & Advice for How to Plan the Perfect Ireland Vacation
For Foodies: All the Best Food We Ate in Ireland
How to Master Driving in Ireland (as a tourist!)
7 Useful Tips for Renting a Car in Ireland
Packing Checklist: What to Wear in Ireland
Irish Sights, Activities & Tours We Especially Enjoyed:
7 Can’t Miss Sights in Killarney
8 Reasons You’ll Love Waterford, Ireland’s Oldest City!
Mingle in Dingle: 5 Things to Do in this Quaint Fishing Village
Visiting the House of Waterford Crystal
Is Mount Congreve Ireland’s Best Garden?
Exploring Kilkenny Castle, in photos
Restaurant & Hotel Reviews:
County Clare: Gregans Castle Hotel
County Galway: Rosleague Manor Hotel, Where to Stay in Galway
County Wexford: The Strand Inn
County Waterford: The Cliff House Hotel, The Reg Pub
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