Kylemore Abbey... Pol a Capall (The Place of the Horse)

"Of places to go when the world gets back to a semblance of what it once was..."

Sometimes we set off for a place on account of its beauty ... sometimes on account of its history and legends. You might say in the case of Kylemore Abbey in Ireland ... it would be because of both.

An Irish Folk Tale has it thus: “There is everything in the sea that is on the land – animals, trees and people; and any year the sea horses came into a certain part of Kerry that is a bad year.” There is a very special place for the horse in human mythology.

Indeed, a horse holds a very special place in one of the legends of Kylemore Abbey. The legend concerns the presence of a horse in the lake on the shore of which the Abbey sits. The Abbey is often perfectly mirrored in the calm waters of Lough Pollaacapull. At other times the waters of the Lough are not calm, and it would seem that it is this latter case that gives rise to the legend.

The legend has it that every seven years a beautiful white horse emerges from the waters of Lough Pollaacapull. The wind plays on the surface, mists rise in obedience to the wind, and there can be no doubt that the entire scene is a magical one. In the appearance, the beautiful white horse dances on the surface of the water before returning to the depths of waters to await its next occasion to rise. Indeed, in 2011 some of the staff of the Abbey were almost convinced that on a windy day, white mist arising from the surface of the waters, they had seen a beautiful white horse moving over the surface of the water. This is why the place took on the Celtic name of “Pol a Capall” which translates as “The Place of the Horse.” It would seem a magical, misty image well worth a traveller’s pursuit. Counting from the 2011 “appearance,” the next visit was to have occurred in 2018, but unfortunately no word of that appearance has yet come to light. The next appearance would seem to be, then, slated for 2025, a year when hopefully things will have for certain returned to “normal” once more.

The Castle itself stands elegantly on the north shore of Lough Pollacappul in the Connemara region of Ireland and is said to be a most romantic place. It is a very popular spot for visitors to Ireland to pilgrimage to. Its history traces back to the nineteenth century, when Mitchell Henry, a London surgeon, with his paternal inheritance, built the Castle as a gift of romance to his wife Margaret in the1860s. Tragically, the couple only resided together there for seven years. Margaret became ill with Nile fever while on a holiday to Egypt. Henry then built the neo-Gothic church on the Estate to memorialize her.

After the Castle changed hands on a few subsequent occasions, a group of Benedictine nuns from Ypres purchased the Castle to use as their Abbey in 1920. Their establishment had been destroyed by the ravishes of the First World War. They have resided and practiced their calling there ever since, also establishing there an excellent school for girls which continued until 2010.

Did some of those schoolgirls see the legendary white horse arise from the waters of the lake? We may never know. What we do know is that the horse remains a crucially important figure in mythology and legend. Indeed, the white horse of Lough Pollacappul seems just as much a part of the landscape of Kylemore Abbey as does the undeniable romance, architectural beauty and faith that has resolutely resided there over the Abbey’s long history. It would seem a place well worth exploring!

Quote from “Some Co. Cork Folk Tales” by Aine Ni Chroinin.

The Kylemore Nuns by Rory McGouran in “British Medical Journal Vol. 327, No. 7421 (Oct. 25, 2003, p 970.


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