By William A. Thomas
They say that when you’re in Kylemore you are only two feet from heaven, and given the beauty one finds all around there, it could well be true.
Kylemore Abbey, home to the Benedictine nuns, is one of the most beautiful places in Ireland. Surrounded by some 3,000 acres of woodland and lakes, the impressive Kylemore Castle sits at the base of a mountain, majestic, and in serene splendour.
This has been the home to the Benedictine nuns since 1920 when they fled for safety from Ypres, Belgium, during the First World War, their monastery there having been bombed by the Germans.
The nuns came to Ireland for safety, living in Wexford initially while trying to source a permanent place to live. When Kylemore came on the market it was acquired on behalf of the nuns who have cared for it since. In more recent times, regretfully, the famous international school was closed due to dwindling numbers and higher costs.
With the recent appointment of a new Mother Abbess, plans are being finalised for the future.
Mother Marie Hickey OSB, the Mother Abbess, has outlined her plans for the future of the monastery in preparation for the centenary celebrations of the arrival of the nuns to Connemara. Some of the priorities of the development plan include a complete interior reconfiguration of the Castle itself in order to bring it and its facilities into the 21st century.
New wiring, plumbing, and upgrades, are essential and necessary in order to facilitate the students of the future. Plans are also being prepared for an education centre which offers residential accommodation and a varied programme of education and training opportunities. Many Catholic universities around the world, and particularly from the United States, have expressed an interest in sending students to Kylemore in order to significantly enhance their education.
Another important part of the development plan is to build a new “fit for purpose” monastery that is more appropriate to the monastic life of prayer and work. This new monastery will be able to cater for and facilitate up to 40 nuns, with en-suite bedrooms, day rooms, chapel, and monastic choir, there will be facilities for guests and for the soon to be founded Benedictine Oblates who will expand the Benedictine family in the area.
New Community enterprises will be initiated to give local employment in energy, crafts, food, forestry, and tourism. These new developments will build on the already successful projects undertaking by the nuns, including the restoration of the Victorian Walled Gardens which won the prestigious European “Europa Nostra” award in 2002. Other successful projects include the extensive restoration of the Neo Gothic church, a miniature of Chichester Cathedral which Henry Mitchell, the original owner, had built for his wife. The Craft Centre and Tea Rooms-Restaurant has always been very successful and have catered well for the some 250,000 tourists who visit Kylemore every year.
Mother Marie Hickey would also like to see a new Monastic church built which would have easy access for visitors. Currently the present chapel is difficult to access and there are a lot of stairs to walk up in order to find it. The proposed new church would make it easier for visitors to visit, and to spend some quite time in prayer and adoration, and when appropriate participating in the liturgy and the Holy Sacrifice of the mass. Another area that is planned is a hospitality centre, where tourists can be orientated and can meet one another in fraternity.
Kylemore Abbey plans to have these multimillion euro developments completed by 2020 when it becomes a centre of excellence in learning through education and catechesis. Inquiries about new vocations to the monastic life have been received and are being processed, with the first of the new aspirants due to enter shortly.
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