1598 – 1680

The Early Beginnings

1680 – 1920

Turbulent Times

1920 – 2020

Arrival to Kylemore

2021 –

A Vision for the Future

Our History

Our history spans six centuries and three countries. Kylemore Abbey is the oldest Irish Benedictine abbey and during its history it has experienced world wars, national conflict, and migration. From its origins in Brussels in 1598 to their arrival in Kylemore in 1920, as The Irish Dames of Ypres, our Benedictine community has lived “seeking God”, following the call of Jesus in the way laid out by St. Benedict of Nursia in his Rule for Monks written around 500 a.d.

The Early Beginnings

1598 – 1680

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

In the late 1500s following the suppression of religious houses in the British Isles, many British Catholics left England and opened monastic houses in Europe. 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, England) and at Ghent (now Oulton Abbey, Staffordshire). Ghent, in turn, founded several Benedictine Houses, one of which was at Ypres, in Belgium established in 1665. Through the centuries, Ypres Abbey attracted the daughters of Irish nobility, as students and postulants. The Abbey enjoyed the patronage of influential Irish families living in exile from religious persecution, and was formally made over to the Irish nation in 1682.

Nun walking in the gardens of Ypres Abbey

Lady Mary Percy, foundress of the Monastery of the Glorious Assumption of Our Lady, Brussels (1598)

Abbaye des Bénédictines Irlandaises, Ypres (Lithograph, Bruges)

Portrait, King James II (1603 – 1701)

Turbulent Times

1680 – 1920

Known as The Irish Dames of Ypres, the Benedictine nuns moved to Dublin in 1688 at the request of King James II but returned to Ypres following James’s defeat at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

After more than two centuries in Ypres educating women and living their Benedictine lives of prayer and spirituality, their Abbey was destroyed in the early days of World War 1. 

The nuns fled as refugees first to England, later to Macmine, Co. Wexford before eventually buying Kylemore Castle in Connemara and settling in Kylemore in December 1920.

Lady Abbess Maura Ostyn (1916-18)

Ruins of Ypres Abbey, 1914. It was destroyed during WWI.

Advertisement for Benedictine Nuns’ Select Boarding School at Macmine, Co. Wexford, 1917

Arrival to Kylemore

1920 – 2020

On 4 December 1920, Irish Dames of Ypres arrived at Kylemore, refugees seeking a new home for their monastic life after the destruction of their home in Ypres.

At Kylemore, they continued their Benedictine mission in education – establishing an international boarding school and educating local girls. The School achieved international renown, attracting students from Ireland, Europe, Asia and the USA. 

In 2010, the School closed, but the Benedictine nuns continued their work in education through music programmes, spiritual retreats and an innovative partnership with the University of Notre Dame. In 2016 the University of Notre Dame Global Centre opened at Kylemore as a residential centre for students and faculty.

The Benedictine nuns remain committed stewards of Kylemore: running a farm and guesthouse; developing tourism and craft enterprises which generate employment for the local area; leading award-winning restoration programmes of the Walled Gardens, Gothic Church and the Castle, while welcoming thousands of visitors to their shared home.

The nuns collecting their own turf, 1936

Abbess Maura Ostyn and sisters with Indian pupil of the Boarding School in the 1930s

Sr Noreen (Peter) Gallagher with pupils c. 1970

President Mary Robinson visits Kylemore for the re-opening of the restored Gothic Church, 1995

Mother Máire Hickey, Abbess with the Benedictine Community pictured in the Victorian Walled Garden, 2019

Sr Magdalena, Sr Mary Scholastica and Sr Mariangela at the new Abbey Exhibition Entrance, 2020

Vision for the Future

2021 –

A Vision for the Future

With the closure of the School in 2010 our monastic community developed a new Vision for the Future. With contemplative monastic life at the heart of Kylemore, we continue to develop Kylemore Abbey as a successful visitor enterprise in order to preserve its rich heritage and to generate income for the upkeep and restoration of the Estate and the development of our new Monastery and Retreat Centre.

Today our community of nuns live, work and pray in several temporary locations across the estate – with no communal monastic home. We strive towards our new monastery, the first female Benedictine monastery to be built in Ireland for 400 years. There, at last, we hope to have a place for our contemplative mission and where we can invite others to share in our living tradition of faith and spirituality at Kylemore. We invite you to share in our vision and become part of this wonderful project, through your support, friendship and prayer.

Find Out More

Learn more about the rich history of the Benedictine Nuns of Kylemore Abbey through the following books:

The Benedictine Nuns and Kylemore Abbey: A History

by Deirdre Raftery & Catherine KilBride

Renowned historians Deirdre Raftery and Catherine Kilbride tell the astonishing story of the Benedictines of Kylemore Abbey in this beautiful book, the first fully illustrated account of this historic order. A special hardback edition released for this, the Centenary year of the Benedictine Community in Kylemore Abbey.

  • Publisher ‏ : Irish Academic Press
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English

History of Kylemore Castle and Abbey

by Kathleen Villiers-Tuthill

Fascinating Irish Local History covering the period from 1862 to 2002. The Castle was built by Mitchell Henry for his family and 125 tenants. The Abbey housed a remarkable community of Benedictine Nuns.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Kylemore Abbey Publications
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0954231019