Bumping along the lush, rugged landscape of Connemara in an air-conditioned coach, Kirsten Fruit can hardly contain her excitement. Each dip in the road brings her closer to a place she’s been dying to visit since seeing its magnificent photo: Kylemore Abbey.
My enthusiasm is threatening to overwhelm my neighbour who, for the past half hour, has been eyeing me with concern.
This obsession of mine with started long before I arrived in Ireland. It was a classic story: a 19th Century couple so enchanted with a region they built a fairytale castle deep in its wilderness. But the sudden death of the wife sees the man leave the estate in the hands of a duke and duchess, who squander the property to support their lavish lifestyle. Then, after years of neglect, a community of Benedictine nuns enter the story stage left. Seeking refuge after the destruction of their abbey during World War I, they restore the property and later open it as an international boarding school.
Yep, this place had seen it all: the romance, the tragedy, the greed, the drama- the atonement. Hence why I’m tapping my fingernails on my camera case as we round the last bend for my first view of the Abbey.
At the base of the velvet green of Druchruach Mountain, and overlooking the glassy blue of Lough Pollacappul, it’s every bit the elegant, romantic spectacle I imagined. The surrounding hills ripple in emerald woodland, and the sapphire lake shimmers and shines. The location, smack dab in the heart of the dramatic Connemara countryside, is as appealing as the estate itself, and the whole effect is breathtaking.
I wander around, gaping-mouthed and wide-eyed, and feel strangely at peace, which, as anyone who’s ever known me will tell you, does not happen often. Even now looking back, I still feel a peculiar sense of calm every time I think about Kylemore Abbey.
The castle-turned-abbey is just as impressive inside, all stately rooms and elegant furnishings. The nearby Gothic church and Victorian walled gardens are beautiful and immaculately cared for. The hours tick by as I stroll the woodland and lake pathways, and my camera is soon exhausted.
On the bus ride back into , we make a pit stop at the ‘Quiet Man’ bridge – famous for its role in the 1952 John Wayne film of the same name. It’s all arches of Connemara stone, rushing steely water and white cottages – a scene from traditional Ireland that looks straight out of celluloid.
Back on the bus, I review the shots I’ve taken on the back of my digital camera, of the Abbey, the church and the bridge, and I realise everything in the middle of the Connemara wilderness is picture-perfect. Just as I imagined it would be.
Learn more about the history of Kylemore Abbey.
Convinced enough to explore yourself? Walk the region on the , which leads through the beautiful, Irish speaking region. If you’d perfer four wheels, do the with optional detours to ensure you don’t miss a thing.