• Deborah Kade

Connemara and its Loughs (lakes)

Started the day with a tasty Irish breakfast. Ann is the perfect hostess. Her husband Patrick cooked the eggs to perfection. Panda, the dog, and Cinderella, the cat, provided the entertainment.

It is said that "for every star God put in the sky, he laid a million stones on Connemara." An exaggeration yes; but this rocky, mostly treeless terrain is part of what makes up the enigmatic beauty of the region.

We drove by the sea bitten western coastline around Clifden and by the bog-mantled moorland.

This picture was taken on Sky Road which is a roller coaster of a drive skirting the northern flank of Streamtown Bay. At its summit the Sky Road reaches a height of 500 feet, affording breathtaking sea views across the islands of Turbot and Inisturk. At the top, there is a stop, ideal for pausing to take in the sweeping views.

Harvesting from the bog.

We saw mountainous landscapes. Many majestic loughs dot the barren land, too.

One of the most photographed vistas in Connemara is from the shores of Lake Pollacappull. Across this not so tranquil stretch of water today, nestling at the foot of Duchruach Hill, is the castellated form of Kylemore Abbey. Even though the temperature hovered around 50 degrees, the wind made it biting cold. This was the first day Michael decided it was time to get out of shorts and into long pants.

The story of Kylemore Abbey is a truly remarkable one that spans over 150 year of tragedy, romance, innovation, education and spirituality. Built as a breathtaking Castle in 1868, it is now the Abbey and home of the Benedictine community of nuns. Presently, there are only seven nuns living and working here.

The Benedictine nuns arrived at Kylemore in 1920 after their Abbey in Ypres, Belgium was destroyed in the early months of World War I. Settling at Kylemore, the Benedictine Community opened a world renowned boarding school for girls and began restoring the Abbey, Gothic Church and Victorian Walled Garden to their former glory.

I lit candles for family and friends while Michael stepped into the Beehive Cell for some quiet meditation.

A brief history....

"Mitchell and Margaret Henry Kylemore’s foundation stone was laid on September 4th 1867 by Margaret Vaughan Henry, the wife of Mitchell Henry. The estate had been bought and planned as an elaborate love token for Margaret and as a ‘nesting place’ for the growing Henry family. Although Mitchell Henry was born in Manchester he proudly proclaimed that every drop of blood that ran in his veins was Irish. It was to Ireland that he brought Margaret on honeymoon in the mid 1840s and where they first seen the hunting lodge in the valley of Kylemore that would eventually become their magnificent home. Although they visited Connemara in a time of hunger, disease and desperation, Mitchell could see the potential to bring change and economic growth to the area. The son of a wealthy Manchester cotton merchant of Irish origin, Mitchell was a skilled pathologist and eye surgeon . In fact before he was thirty years of age, he had a successful Harley street practise and is known to have been one of the youngest ever speakers at the Royal College of Surgeons in London. On his father’s death, Mitchell inherited a hugely successful family business and became one of the wealthiest young men in Britain at the time. Mitchell lost no time in quitting his medical career and turning instead to liberal politics where he felt he could change the world for the better. His new found wealth also allowed him to buy Kylemore Lodge and construct the magnificent Castle. Designed by Irish architect James Franklin Fuller and the engineer Ussher Roberts Kylemore boasted all the innovations of the Victorian Age. There were 33 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, 4 sitting rooms, a ballroom, billiard room, library, study, school room, smoking room, gun room and various offices and domestic staff residences, as well as gardens, walks and woodlands which eventually covered 13,000 acres of land at a cost of little over £18,000. During construction the sound of dynamite blasts were heard in Connemara for the first time as the Castle was carefully set into the face of the mountain. This achieved the exact positioning required which to this day gives the castle its iconic appearance perfectly reflected in Lough Pollaacapull."

"The Duke & Duchess of Manchester Kylemore Abbey history is a truly remarkable one, both Castle and Abbey . The twists of fate which its occupants experienced, from moments of romance and happiness, to sadness and courage have all combined to create a fascinating history spanning over 150 years. Kylemore Castle had many residents in the past, one of them are Duke of Manchester (William Angus Drogo Montague) and his Duchess of Manchester , Helena Zimmerman. In 1903, Mitchell Henry sold Kylemore Castle to the Duke of Manchester (William Angus Drogo Montague) and his Duchess of Manchester , Helena Zimmerman. They lived a lavish lifestyle financed by the Duchess’ wealthy father, the American businessman, Eugene Zimmerman. On arrival at Kylemore the couple set about a major renovation, removing much of the Henry’s Italian inspired interiors and making the castle more suitable for the lavish entertainments that they hoped to stage in their new home. The renovation included the removal of the beautiful German stained glass window in the stair case hall and the ripping out of large quantities of Italian and Connemara marble. Local people felt the changes represented a desecration of the memory of the much loved Margaret Henry and her beloved Kylemore Castle."

"The DukeBorn on March 1877, William Montagu – the Duke was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, and succeeded his father when he was still a minor. The Duke inherited a grand estate which included lavish residences such as Tanderagee Castle in Co. Armagh and Kimbolton Castle In Huntington, England. However his inheritance which was administered by trustees was heavily indebted and together with his lavish lifestyle meant that by the age of 23 the Duke was bankrupt. When in 1900 the Duke married the Cincinatti heiress, Helena Zimmerman, it seems that his money problems could be forgotten about. As Helena’s parents frowned on the relationship the couple actually eloped to Paris where they were married. A suitably glamorous start to the marriage of this sparkling pair. It is thought that Helena’s father hoped the life of a country squire at Kylemore would help the Duke to leave behind his days of gambling and partying but this was not to be. The Duke and Duchess left Kylemore in 1914 following the death of Helena’s father. There are many stories in circulation which claim that the Duke lost Kylemore in a late night gambling session in the Castle however it seems more likely that following the death of Eugene Zimmerman there were not sufficient funds available to the Duke to maintain the Kylemore estate. The Duke and Duchess divorced in 1931 and Helena went on to marry the 10th Earl of Kintore, Scotland."

"The DuchessHelena Zimmerman – the Duchess was referred to in the English and American press as a ‘dollar princess’, the title was given to wealthy American heiresses who married into the British Royal line. Helena was a beautiful and modern young woman who together with the dashing Duke made a glamorous much talked about young couple. Although her father and mother at first frowned upon her marriage to the Duke because of his reputation as a rakish playboy and gambler, they did eventually come to support the couple financially. Helena seems to have spent a somewhat lonely life at Kylemore with her three young children as the Duke continued to travel widely in Europe and America, often as the paid guest of wealthy Americans such as Randolph Hearst. The Duchess is remembered as speeding along the narrow fuchsia lined laneways of Connemara in her Daimler motor car, a highly unusual site for Connemara of the early 1900s!

"The present Benedictine nuns of Kylemore Abbey have a long history, beginning at Brussels in 1598.

This was the time following the suppression of religious houses in the British Isles when British Catholics left England and opened religious houses abroad.A number of monasteries originated from one Benedictine house in Brussels, founded by Lady Mary Percy in 1598. Houses founded from Lady Mary’s house in Brussels were at Cambray in France (now Stanbrook in England) and at Ghent (now Oulton Abbey) in Staffordshire. Ghent in turn founded several Benedictine Houses, one of which was at Ypres.Kylemore Abbey is the oldest of the Irish Benedictine Abbeys. The community of nuns, who have resided here since 1920, have a long history stretching back almost three hundred and forty years. Founded in Ypres, Belgium, in 1665, the house was formally made over to the Irish nation in 1682.The purpose of the abbey at Ypres was to provide an education and religious community for Irish women during times of persecution here in Ireland.

Down through the centuries, Ypres Abbey attracted the daughters of the Irish nobility, both as students and postulants, and enjoyed the patronage of many influential Irish families living in exile.

At the request of King James II the nuns moved to Dublin in 1688. However, they returned to Ypres following James’s defeat at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. The community finally left Ypres after the Abbey was destroyed in the early days of World War One.The community first took refuge in England, and later in Co Wexford before eventually settling in Kylemore in December 1920.

At Kylemore, the nuns reopened their international boarding school and established a day school for local girls. They also ran a farm and guesthouse; the guesthouse was closed after a devastating fire in 1959. In 2010, the Girl’s Boarding School was closed and the nuns have since been developing new education and retreat activities."

"Kylemore Abbey School (Scoil Aine) ran at Kylemore from 1923 until it finally closed it doors in 2010. A boarding and day school, Kylemore gained a reputation far in excess of it’s physical size. Today hundreds of women around the world fondly remember their time as ‘K’ girls in the magical location of Kylemore Abbey. Visit our School Exhibition on the ground floor of the Abbey to learn more.

"Kylemore Abbey education was important part of the entire Abbey community. The Benedictine nuns have always had a tradition of education. When they were known as the “Irish Dames of Ypres”, Irish nobility sent their daughters to be educated by the Benedictine nuns in their ancient Belgian Abbey. When the nuns came to Kylemore, they went about transforming the castle into an Abbey and created an international boarding school. The school was exclusivity for girls only. The principal reception rooms and bedrooms in the Abbey were converted into classrooms with other rooms being converted into dormitories. The school was formally opened in 1923. Thirty pupils were enrolled on the appointment day. The students received an education drawn up in accordance with the principles of Benedictine education and on the lines of a public secondary school. From the beginning, the school was seen as a ‘high-class school’ offering ‘all the advantages of a Continental education without the necessity for lengthened travel’. The school was also known as one of Ireland’s most prestigious girls’ schools that was worldwide famous. It had numerous foreign students arriving to study in beautiful environment of Connemara. Many of them came to improve their language knowledge. Even though there was students from another continents most of them was from European countries."

Kylemore Abbey among many other advantages offered an education as well. Prestigious Kylemore Abbey School for girls was opened for a long period of time throughout the history. The school attracted many foreign students, many of whom came to study English".

There is a beautiful statue high on the hill. Can't imagine how they got it up the mountain.

"Ireland is a country with countless tales of myth and folklore. Kylemore is steeped in romantic and colorful Irish legends and mythology. Many of the mountains and lakes in this area have ancient stories associated with them which have been passed from generation to generation."

"An unusual looking rocky outcrop, located high above the neo-Gothic church also earned its name ‘Leim na h’Eilte’ – The Deers Leap from the time the mythical giants ruled the area. Giant, Fionn McColl and his hound named Bran were chasing an enchanted deer across the wilds of Connemara. As they traversed the treacherous hillside at lightning speed, Fionn could see Bran was in danger as he was close to the rocky cliff. Fionn called Bran to come back but Bran, caught up in the chase could not hear him. The deer leaped from the cliff and Bran followed. They both disappeared into the lake below and were never seen again."

Legend of the White Horse takes place at the beautiful lake which reflects the image of the abbey, often like a mirror, takes its name from another legend. A story popular among children, the tale tells of a beautiful white horse which rises from the lake in front of the Abbey every 7 years.

In 2011 some staff at Kylemore Abbey were almost certain they had seen the legendary white horse. On a windy day, the wind whipped up water from the lake in wispy white clouds which raced across the surface of the lake back and forth. One could easily imagine this was a beautiful white horse racing across.

It was very windy today but we didn't see the horse.

Most of the time we drove N59 which is a national road but we had to share it with a cow and many sheep. The cow was determined not to move, though!

Our last stop took us to Cong. In 1951, John Ford's greatest movie "The Quiet Man" starring John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara and Barry Fitzgerald was made. It was set in the beautiful west of Ireland with filming being centered in the village of Cong on the Mayo-Galw. There is a statue of John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara in the center of town.

This sentimental film, Ford's first 'romantic love story,' received a total of seven Academy Awards nominations (including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor - Victor McLaglen, Best Screenplay - Frank Nugent, Best Art Direction, and Best Sound) and won two Oscars: Best Cinematography - Winton Hoch and Archie Stout, and Ford (at 57 years of age) won his fourth and final Best Director Oscar, establishing a record that is still unbeaten.

It was one of the first color films ever shot outside of North America and many members of the crew fell in love with their surroundings and brought their families back to Ireland on vacation.

The hillsides are just starting to green up. The landscape is beautiful now but it must be spectacular when the hillsides are all many shades of green.

The houses in the village are so quaint!

We went to Breathnach's Bar again for dinner as Michael wanted to try the Irish stew I raved about. My recommendation didn't disappoint!!! We started with the seafood chowder and split a piece of carrot cake.

Another day comes to a close. Happy Easter, Happy April Fool's Day and Happy Pancake Day!


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