One of the delights of our 2002 trip to Ireland was a day we spent in the Connemara region – an area known for its rugged beauty and amazing Connemara marble. As one might expect from Ireland, it was cold and very rainy that day, and it was dumping rain for much of the time that we were at Kylemore Abbey. It is such a beautiful setting though, that we didn’t mind.
Mitchell Henry, M.P. (1826-1910), a wealthy Liverpool merchant, built a Gothic-style baronial mansion (castle) in Connemara for himself and his young wife – its reflection cast in Lough Polacoppul (the lake of the hollow of the horses). It nestles at the foot of Ducruach Mountain in the heart of Connemara, and its towers shimmer in the lake and there is a heavily-wooded hillside rising up behind it. A guidebook, published in 1859, not long after Mitchell Henry first came by that way describes the idyllic lakeside setting, “…and what a panorama! How the sunbeams catch the purple-dyed mist and drink up the dew from the flowery heather. The air is all perfume, and the lark shoots skyward with a volume of song. Everything seems to enjoy the scene; how beautifully the lake, with its mirrored surface, reflects the rising sun.”
When Mitchell Henry bought the 13,000 acres of scrub and bogland in 1866, this man of progressive Victorian ideas embarked on extensive agricultural and horticultural experiments. He drained and reclaimed thousands of acres of bogland and embarked on massive tree-planting schemes that gave much badly needed employment to the area. About a mile west of the castle he created an 8-1/2 acre walled garden. Although that area was the site of a small clachan (village), Mr. Henry had new homes built for the occupants in the vicinity, presumably better ones, and with their agreement, for he was regarded as a good and caring landlord.
The Mitchell’s apparently first visited Connemara while on their honeymoon in 1850, and the young bride, Margaret Vaughan, was so charmed with the place that the couple decided they would build a home there, but it was 16 years before that dream would be fulfilled, when they managed to purchase the hunting lodge which stood on this site, along with 13,000 acres of mountain, lake and bog, shooting and fishing rights. Margaret Mitchell was able to enjoy her dream home for only a few years. In 1874, on a visit to Egypt she contracted a fever from which she died. Mitchell brought her body back to Kylemore, to be laid in a mausoleum close to the Castle. There he built the wonderful miniature Gothic Church. Mitchell died in 1910 and although then he had sold Kylemore and retired to London, his ashes were brought back and laid to rest in the mausoleum next to his beloved Margaret. The new owners were the Duke and Duchess of Manchester. They carried out extensive and expensive alterations to the house.
Here’s a shot of Kylemore that I took through the rain on a cold Irish day.
ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1968, a U.S. B-52 bomber carrying unarmed hydrogen bombs, crashed near Thule, Greenland.
TRIVIA FOR TODAY: Point Pinos is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the western coast of the United States. It has been in operation off the rocky coast of California since 1855.