According to our guidebook "Connemara National Park is a lovely park spread over mountains, bogs, and wetlands. It has an excellent visitor center which offers advice on how best to see this scenic wonder." So we set out on yet another ring drive around this peninsula and to visit the national park. On the way we stopped at
Augnanure Castle, just because it was there. There wasn't much left of it but a watch tower, typical of many of the castles we've passed.
The national park was a major disappointment. The visitor center was not open and it was not obvious how we were supposed to access this area. Even the toilets were not open, also an issue after a long drive. There were a few parked cars and we supposed people were off in the brush tramping around, but it was cloudy and cold and aimless hiking without the appropriate clothing did not seem like fun.
A few miles down the road we came to Kylemore Abbey,
where many more tourists were enjoying this special place. It was built in the 1860's as Kylemore Castle by a British man named Mitchell Henry who must have been as rich as Bill Gates. In the middle of nowhere he erected this massive, lavish home at his wife's request and a neo Gothic chapel
modeled after his favorite Norwich Cathedral. The family had nine children, and the castle was built with entertaining in mind. When their wealthy friends would call with all of their servants, 150 people were housed in the castle.
Our admission included a Victorian walled garden
which is scheduled to close for the season at the end of the day. Given the blustery weather we were tempted to skip it, but the ticket agent said we would love the layout. And she was so right. The garden was so far from the house, we had to take a shuttle bus through the woods to get there. Even at this time of year things were still green and blooming and the ornamental beds cut into symmetrical patterns were amazing.
How wonderful it would be to see this place when all is in bloom. There were ornamental beds designed for strolling, vegetable and herb gardens, flower gardens - all could be irrigated by a balling brook that crossed the garden if need be. The castle had a battalion of gardeners to work on this place. The head gardener had a nice home
nearby so he could keep an eye on them slaving away. Nearby green houses would keep them busy year round preparing plants for the next season in the winter.
As seems to be the story with all these great houses, the Henry's fell on bad times and today the house belongs to Benedictine nuns who run a girls' school in the castle, now called the abbey. Students come from all over the world and board there and area students attend as well, which meant that we could only see the rooms on the first floor.
The ballroom has been turned into a chapel where the nuns pray and the students are housed and taught in the other upper floor areas.
Overall, the Connemara Peninsula was rather bleak and empty. The mountains were not high and the peat fields surrounding them looked brown. The road passed lots of fresh water lakes that might be used by fishermen and boaters in warmer weather, but there was nothing happening today. Perhaps we are no longer here during the off season. Perhaps it has become the "no tourists at all" season. Must be time to go home.