Like so many of our beloved tourism gems in the west, Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Walled Gardens closed on March 12. It will remain closed indefinitely, pending national public guidance as the threat of coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on life as we know it.
The closure has meant the cancellation or postponement of many key events in the Kylemore calendar, and a pause in activity on what was promising to be a busy season ahead. While Kylemore staff and suppliers and the abbey’s Benedictine community are terribly disappointed, there is also a real sense of hope and resilience as plans continue for the year ahead.
The annual Easter Sunday event in the stunning six-acre walled garden – always full of trails, treats, and nature – was naturally deferred, but a similar event is being planned, to ensure that giggles, adventures and magical fun return to the estate quick-smart when it reopens.
The Kylemore Estate was also looking forward to hosting a Darkness into Light walk for the first time on May 9. While this now won’t be happening, the walk in aid of Pieta House will instead take place in the autumn.
This year, 2020, is a significant milestone for Kylemore Abbey’s Benedictine community, as it marks 100 years since they arrived in Connemara and made the now-famous abbey their home. The abbey was originally built by Mitchell Henry as an ancestral castle in 1870. After passing through the hands of the Duke and Duchess of Manchester, it became a home and place of worship for the nuns, who fled war-torn Belgium via England and Co Wexford, eventually arriving in Kylemore on December 4, 1920.
Events planned in celebration of the centenary, including a big school reunion due to take place in June, have had to be put on hold for now. The reunion was to see almost 700 national and international Kylemore Abbey School alumnae gather at the estate for a weekend of celebration and nostalgia for their time in the renowned boarding and day school.
The organisers made the tough decision to reschedule it to June 2021 – but they are optimistic this deferral will only add to the significance what promises to be a monumental get-together.
Work has also paused on the new Monastery and Retreat Centre for the Benedictine nuns. This 14-month construction project was to be a highlight of the centenary year. Work had been underway onsite since last October, and it was due be completed in December – in time to mark the anniversary of the nuns’ first arrival.
Stoicism and prayers
Like the rest of the nation and indeed the world, the Covid-19 outbreak and its many societal effects is a source of great worry for Kylemore’s staff, nuns and friends.
Reflecting on the current situation, the Abbess of Kylemore Abbey, Mother Máire Hickey OSB, said: “During these difficult times for the world, our first thoughts are with all those who are anxious, sick or who have been bereaved by this terrible illness. We pray for them and for all those who are working so hard and in so many ways to help our society to cope at this time.
“Our thoughts too are with our loyal colleagues and friends in Connemara who are feeling the social and economic impact of this crisis. With our country closed and the tourism sector severely affected, many Kylemore staff are isolated, lonely and worried about their livelihoods at this time. We think of them and remember them in our daily prayers.”
Displaying the stoicism of the spiritual, she and all the Kylemore nuns are taking in their stride the cruel concidence that saw the crisis hit during their centenary anniversary at the abbey.
“For the Benedictine community of nuns here in Kylemore, this year was a very special one, marking 100 years of our presence in Connemara. In June we were looking forward to welcoming hundreds of past pupils for a reunion of Kylemore Abbey School, which closed in 2010. This and other events and aspects of our centenary will be deferred until the storm of coronavirus has passed and we can celebrate with joy together.
“Throughout the past century, Ireland has faced world wars, political upheaval, global recession and social change. From our tranquil place on the edge of Europe, the Benedictine nuns have prayed and prevailed in the face of adversity. In this season of Easter, we pray again for all who are fearful and dejected as we cherish the Paschal message of hope, of renewal and a new dawn,” added Mother Hickey.
All at Kylemore Abbey look forward to reopening the gates and welcoming all who visit to explore the history, serenity, beauty and romance of the 1,000-acre estate. For updates on the current closure as well as news and events on the estate, see www.kylemoreabbey.com.