Nearly 2000 tourist visit Kylemore Abbey daily in the summer season, their peak season. From around 10 am to 6 pm one can find people of many backgrounds and languages milling about the grounds of the Abbey: squeezing past one another in the front rooms of the Abbey, waiting for the shuttle to bring them to the Victorian Walled Gardens, or meandering through the gift shop looking to buy some chocolate or soap Sister Genevieve, Sister Blandeen and Sister Aiden make daily to keep up with gift shop demands. In the past few years, Kylemore has undergone restoration and renovation, mostly to the front rooms of the castle, the walled gardens, and gothic chapel, to accommodate more tourism. The tourism operations remain a separate entity from the Benedictine Community, however, like the partnership they have now with Notre Dame's presence at Kylemore, the community is in working relationship with the tourist board and the Kylemore Trust who manages the profits.
The tourism of Kylemore adds a unique layer to the atmosphere of the Abbey that effects the community in many ways. Benedictine life is traditionally a monastic movement that is practiced within a cloistered community. This is interesting to think about because instant when I think of cloistered communities I think of being closed off and separate from society, being a form of sanctuary for those who want to free themselves from the daily evils that fill regular life, allowing for more time and energy to connect spiritually and prayerfully with God. Many convents, abbeys, and monasteries have limited interactions with people outside of their community and often forbid laymen to enter many areas of their community life and the grounds. The grounds are supposed to be a sacred space. Though the grounds at Kylemore Abbey do indeed exude the essence of sacredness, I can't help but wonder if it is at all tainted by the fact that tourists enter this space 364 days a year (Christmas day being the only exception). I also can't help but wonder if the nuns find it challenging to navigate their daily work and prayer on these grounds knowing tourists are milling about typically just a handful of feet away at any moment during the daytime. Besides for Sister Noreen, who often sits at a table in one of the roped off renovated rooms greeting all passersby, the nuns seldom interact with tourists, unless they join for Mass or Vespers, which even then is not direct interaction but rather just being in the same room praying with one another.
This ambiguous and often ambivalent overlap is something I intend to look more closely at as a layer of Kylemore Abbey and a facet that intervenes with the Benedictine life. When I return I intend to ask the sisters more questions on how the tourism came to grow and how decisions were made to expand the tourism and allow for people to enter the grounds and how they feel their life has been impacted by these decisions. I can guess that most of the nuns will say that it is not harmful or negatively impactful on their prayer and work life and they probably welcomed the idea given the historic richness of Kylemore. Regardless of whether the nuns feel any sort of impediment or alteration of their prayer and work as Benedictines, the tourism of Kylemore makes this Abbey unique and out of the ordinary when researching contemporary Benedictine communities.