Best Day Out: ‘I still get a jolt when I see Kylemore Abbey’
‘Like many Connemara people, I experience a sort of smug satisfaction in introducing friends to a place I know they’ll love’
Kylemore Abbey, Connemara, Co Galway, is ‘a show stopper’, according to Eithne O’Halloran, who pitched it to The Irish Times Best Days Out in Ireland competition. Photograph: Don King, The Image Bank, Getty Images
The Irish Times is on the hunt for Ireland’s greatest visitor attractions, and we’ve asked our readers to help, by recommending great ways to spend a day in Ireland. Eithne O’Halloran still loves her old school . . .
No matter how many times I drive over that bridge between the lakes I still get a jolt when I see Kylemore Abbey gazing back at me from across the water. It doesn’t matter that I live over the road from it, that I went to school there, and that I know almost every nook and cranny of it, I never tire of that view.
Like many Connemara people, I get a kick out of the reaction from friends whom I bring there. I also experience a sort of smug satisfaction in introducing them to a place I know they are going to love.
Before we start exploring, a stop a the café is essential for a good coffee and one of those massive fluffy scones made by Imelda Hyland, who seems to have mastered the perfect-every-time knack. Add too much butter, too much cream and too much raspberry jam and we’re fuelled.
First an amble around the Abbey itself. If I’m with friends who haven’t been before we will listen to a history talk in the front hall. As a Downton Abbey freak I love imagining what life was like here in the past.
I also love the décor in the drawing room, including a vestment made from the cloak of a Spanish princess , not what you expect to find on a day out in Connemara.
After the Abbey it’s off along the avenue by the lake and over to visit the Gothic church: gorgeous, sad and romantic. The interior is beautifully carved with flowers and angels and jewel coloured stained glass.
The Henrys who built Kylemore are buried in a little mausoleum further along the avenue and it seems only right to go and see them every time I visit.
I’m not usually superstitious but no matter what the weather is like we have to continue a little farther down the avenue, to an imposing – and fully working – wishing stone.
You have to stand with your back to the “Ironing Stone” and get a pebble over the tip for your wish to come true. Kylemore was a secondary school until a few years ago, and plenty of school girls nabbed their ideal debs partner this way.
We then stretch our legs a little. There is a shuttle bus to the walled garden but the walk through the woods brings you past one of those Connemara vistas that a theatre designer might have sneakily dropped into place.
The walled garden is impressive, with its formal bedding, vegetable garden and rushing stream. There is a restored head gardener’s house. My favourite nook here is the little workman’s bothy with its smoky fire and enamel mugs on the table waiting to be filled with a strong brew for gardeners who have long departed.
After a good exploration of gardens and woodland walks, it’s time for another pit stop at the garden tea house, which overlooks green fields and the Diamond Hill.
As a day out to share with friends old or new, Kylemore Abbey is a show stopper.
A memorable day out can take many forms: an adrenalin-pumping outdoor activity, a visit to a museum that brings its subject to life, a ramble through a little-known corner of Ireland – or a combination of the lot. Nominate your favourite at www.irishtimes.com/bestdayout
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