| 12.2°C Dublin

Sad farewell to 'fairy-tale' girls school

It was built as a token of love but became one of Europe's most beautiful and exclusive boarding schools

But no more will the bell toll for class at Kylemore Abbey and this weekend more than 700 women from all over the world gathered in their old school at the foot of Duchruach Mountain and remembered the happiest days of their lives.

The last batch of just 12 pupils -- all day girls from the locality -- will arrive back at school in September and will sit their leaving certificate this time next year.

Kylemore Abbey was a fairy-tale school in a fairy-tale setting -- a real-life Hogwarts where Benedictine sisters, not wizards, held sway.

Hollywood actress Anjelica Huston spent her schooldays under the tutelage of the Sisters and Madonna at one time wanted to send her daughters to the Connemara college.

Two former Miss Ireland winners, Emer Holohan Doyle and Linda Duffy, also attended the school.

But times change and the lack of vocations means that only one Benedictine sister remains on the teaching staff. The life of a Benedictine sister devoted to the monastic life of prayer and work is no longer attractive to young women.

"When you no longer have sisters teaching it is difficult to uphold the ethos of a Benedictine School, which is based around the idea that the girls would be taught by Religious.

"That's the main reason why we are closing the school," said music teacher Sister Karol yesterday.

Another 13 Benedictine sisters remain in the community of Kylemore but many have retired from teaching for many years and some of the sisters are now elderly.

"The gathering of past pupils this weekend started out as a small class reunion but gathered such momentum that we decided that we would use the opportunity to mark the closing of the school -- even though we will have a small number of pupils back in September."

"The girls who went to Kylemore remain in contact with each other. They are very close. There is a great bond between them. But it was always like that. It is like a family," Sr Karol said.

Sr Karol will be sad to see the school close but says it means that she will be able to face new challenges, such as teaching local children.

The construction of Kylemore Abbey began shortly after 1866 when philanthropic English doctor and Home Rule MP Mitchel Henry bought Kylemore Lodge and 13,000 acres of mountains, rivers, lakes and bog, and began building a home for his bride Margaret. But the couple had little opportunity to enjoy their fairytale home. In 1874, Margaret contracted 'Nile Fever' in Egypt and died.

Her husband had her body brought to Kylemore and laid to rest in a mausoleum in the grounds and when he died in 1910 his ashes were brought back to Kylemore.

In 1920 nuns from Ypres, Belgium arrived in Connemara having fled the Germans during the first World War and they took out public loans totalling £45,000 to establish the Abbey and the school.