Kylemore Abbey and the various buildings throughout the estate have many stories to tell, since the first brick was laid in 1867 the estate has had to evolve and adapt to suit the needs of the different eras . Although the estate is now in a slumber a little like the palace in sleeping beauty waiting for the spell of Covid 19 to be lifted it has always been a place both of consistency and change. One of the buildings that has seen several changes of use over the years is the one which today serves as our Chocolate Kitchen where our range of beautiful handmade chocolates are made. Originally we believe this would have been part of a complex of buildings that included stables, workshops, the fire house and some staff accommodation, that was during the era of Mitchell Henry then followed by the Duke of Manchester.
Following the arrival of the nuns in 1920, these buildings were used as the home Economics kitchen for Kylemore Abbey Girl’s School, which ran from 1922 until 2010. The very first Home Economics room was situated in Saint Maurs next to the lake on the Western avenue (pictured in a very early school brochure). A local woman Penelope (Nappy)Coyne (nee Joyce) recalled coming here as a girl in the 1930s to help the nuns make boiled sweets which they would sell to the small stream of visitors who came to see the Abbey. Nappy was amongst the very first day pupils at Kylemore, and she came to Saint Maurs to learn cookery and needlework. By the time her younger sister Eileen Keane (nee Joyce) began school the home economics classes had moved to what we now call the Chocolate kitchen. Eileen remembers a large room with rows of work benches and a solid fuel stove at one end and recalls her father, who was a game keeper for the nuns coming to the kitchen with braces of rabbits strung over his shoulder which a Belgian nun, Sr Walbrugga, used, to teach the girls to make rabbit pie. Next door to the kitchen was the accommodation for the half boarders, girls from the local area outside walking distance to the school who stayed during the week and went home at the weekends. The meals cooked each day in the Home Ec kitchen formed the evening meals for the half boarders.
Former Kylemore Abbey pupils circa the 1940s
Apart from cooking another element of this building was the teaching of sewing and dress making which were essential skills for all young ladies and prospective homemakers. All kinds of garments were turned out from night-gowns to tapestried cushions and clothes of every variety.
Home Economics text books from the 1980s and 1970s
Mrs Mary Smyth
The longest-serving Home Economics teacher at Kylemore was Mrs Mary Smyth who is very fondly remembered by her pupils. Mary thought of Kylemore from 1974 until 2001. She patiently taught several generations of girls everything from the composition of an egg, how to make and ice a Christmas cake and how to thread a sewing machine and sew on buttons guaranteed not to fall off! Personally, more than 30 years since first sitting in front of the singer sewing machines in Mrs Smyth’s class I can still fill a bobbin, thread the machine and sew a straight hem in no time and that is not a skill to be sniffed at! The craft items made in the Home Ec room went on display every year for parents day and were always a big part of the day along with all the paintings and drawings from the art room.
An example of the type of sewing patterns that were used from the 1940s onwards
Mary remarks that over the years the subject of Home Economics gradually changed with the times and became a subject with a greater emphasis on health and social issues rather than solely to impart domestic skills. In the past Home Ec was considered an essential although the less academic subject and certainly the girls looked forward to breaking from the monotony of the classroom to spend a few hours cooking or sewing in a relaxed and fun atmosphere.
Pupils busy in the Home Ec Kitchen in the 1990s
Sadly it was not to last and by the year 2010 the school had closed and the Home Ec room lay empty though still complete with its workstations, fridges, sinks and cookers.
It was at that time that Sr Genevieve Harrington was given the task of finding a way to utilize the now empty kitchens and somehow she came up with the idea of a small chocolate making venture.
Today Kylemore Abbey handmade chocolates are the most popular item in our Craft and Design Shop and the future use of this building is certainly decided for many years to come!
Sr Genevieve filling caramels for the Luxury Selection