Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Victorian garden

It's back to normal this morning after a long and enjoyable St. Patrick's weekend with family and friends. It was a typical West of Ireland St. Patrick's day on Saturday with so much rain that Clifden's National school band had to cancel their performance.
The weather redeemed itself yesterday however with a Spring like (almost warm) rain free day. Two seasons in as many days, we rain weary Irish know that it is imperative to abandon everything when the weather turns and go outside immediately as it might be some time before it returns!
I spent the day at the gloriously restored Victorian gardens at Kylemore Abbey.

These next photos were taken about a year ago in the garden around Easter. The great thing about visiting Kylemore is that there are new things to enjoy at every time of the year and the garden is always impressive and interesting even if it is not in full bloom.

The Kylemore story is a romantic one. It began when Mitchell Henry visited Kylemore with his wife on their honeymoon in 1852. They stopped at Kylemore Pass and looking over the hillside, Margaret declared that she would love to live in such a beautiful place. Ten years later, Mitchell Henry purchased the site and began to build the castle, model farm, dairy, adjoining gothic church, and walled garden. The entire project took five years and one and a quarter million pounds to build, a staggering sum for the time. The gardens cover six acres and originally contained twenty one glass houses heated by an underground system of piping that was was fueled by a lime kiln furnace. These houses would have contained a variety of tropical fruits and plants collected from around the world. The head gardener lived in a beautiful residence ( picture below ) within the garden walls and the workers resided close by in the modest 'bothy'.

The Henry's lived happily on the estate with their nine children for ten years before tradgedy struck with the death of Margaret on a visit to Egypt. She was buried in a Mausoleum on the estate but Mitchell never recovered from her death and could not bear to spend much time at Kylemore. Later, one of Henry's daughters died when driving a pony trap locally and after that Henry's empire began to collapse. The Benedictine nuns took over the property in 1920 and still maintain a presence there to day.
I worked at Kylemore when I first came to Connemara, making and decorating pots in the pottery on the estate. It was a fairytale introduction to the place for me and I spent seven years there in total before moving to Clifden, about ten miles away. The Benedictine nuns undertook the restoration of the gardens while I was there, no small task.
I remember visiting the garden in my first year. It had a magical charm then, like The Secret Garden, the children's novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It was out of bounds, wild and completely overgrown behind ancient locked doors.
The garden to day is a tribute to the Benedictine order at Kylemore and all the lay people, gardeners, locals and specialists involved in the massive restoration project. It is a marvel of a place, a surreal and expertly manicured model surrounded by walls, which give way to an untamed backdrop of wild mountains and countryside. It is almost like stepping in to a different world when you pass through the gates and allow yourself to be transported back to a very particular time in the history of this place.


  1. If it makes you feel better it absolutely poured all Paddy's day in south-east Queensland as well. We'd gone to the coast with friends for the weekend and it was a total washout. We had to retreat indoors to our version of the local pub- the surf club.
    Would love to visit the gardens again. Spring is a wonderful time in Connemara!

  2. Hi Tina, that must be unusual weather for you! You're right about Spring here - the gorse is already in full bloom in our back garden and Spring is very much in the air. Good to hear from you x