Kylemore's six-acre gardens are restored to their former glory

A six-acre Victorian walled garden at Kylemore Abbey in Connemara has been restored to its full splendour, and not just for the…

A six-acre Victorian walled garden at Kylemore Abbey in Connemara has been restored to its full splendour, and not just for the nuns. The garden, which boasts one of the most dramatic settings with a backdrop of the Connemara mountains, has been open to all since Easter.

The garden was originally developed in 1867 by the owner of Kylemore Castle, Mitchell Henry, a wealthy surgeon from Manchester. While captivated by the romantic landscape, Henry held progressive views on agriculture and horticulture. He reclaimed thousands of acres of bogland and planted thousands of trees.

He also built the stunning Gothic Revival castle which is a now an international boarding school for girls, as well as a farmyard with extensive workshops and, one mile west of the castle, the walled garden. He later built the Gothic church in memory of his beloved wife, Margaret (from Co Down), who died following an illness contracted while visiting Egypt in 1874.

The Kylemore estate was owned by the Duke and Duchess of Manchester from 1903 to 1920, when it was bought by the Benedictine nuns and became Kylemore Abbey. By the 1940s the flower garden lay in ruin and use of the kitchen garden declined over the years as it became cheaper to buy vegetables.


The nuns had always wanted to see the garden restored, and the opportunity came when they received £500,000 through the Great Gardens of Ireland Restoration Scheme. They had to take out a bank loan to match the grant.

The restoration work began in September 1996. Dogged by bad weather and the great winds that came howling down the valley in winter, progress was slow. But all the hard work has finally paid off, and visitors can now view the garden almost as it was in Mitchell Henry's day.

Head gardener Ann Golden said that in its heyday the garden had a range of spectacularly-shaped ornamental glasshouses where everything from melons, nectarines and tomatoes to coffee, bananas and medicinal herbs were grown.

"When the restoration work began we couldn't even see the walls, because the garden was completely overgrown. It was a wilderness. All that was left of the glasshouses were the bases," she explained.

By using the Ordnance Survey map of 1898 as a reference guide, Ann and her team have been able to re-create the sloping lawns of the flower garden with its geometrical beds, in which they have planted only flowers that were available in the Victorian era.

A wooded area separates the formal flower garden from the kitchen garden, which is screened from the main drive by a double herbaceous border, as the Victorians did not consider the sight of vegetables to be aesthetically pleasing.

One of the ornamental glasshouses - the old vinery - has been restored, and the nuns hope eventually to restore all the glasshouses. But this will require considerable capital, which they do not have.

At the top of the garden, beside the head gardener's house (which is currently under restoration) are the bothys where the garden boys lived. These are also open to public viewing.

A separate entrance from the road to the gardens, a reception area and tea rooms have been built. The garden is open to the public from Easter to October, to 4.30p.m. daily.

Michelle McDonagh

Michelle McDonagh

Michelle McDonagh, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health and family