Built as a breath-taking castle in 1868, Kylemore Abbey’s history is a truly remarkable one with an outstanding legacy, spanning 155 years in Connemara, from the construction of the Castle and Gardens to the arrival of the Benedictine Order over 100 years ago from war-torn Belgium to its establishment as a globally celebrated visitor attraction punctuating the stunning and ever-changing landscape of Connemara.
Guided by the Benedictine Monastic Community, Education has been at the heart of Kylemore Abbey for the last hundred years. An internationally renowned boarding school operated here for many decades. Following its closure in 2010, the legacy and tradition of learning have been continued through partnerships with Notre Dame University, the University of Galway, local schools, and scout groups, as well as music, horticulture, ecological, and hospitality education.
Today, Kylemore Abbey is a Monastic estate of Peace and Retreat and a regional fulcrum of Enterprise and Employment in an area bereft of other major industries.
The Mission of Kylemore Abbey is twofold:
All activities carried out on the state align with the Benedictine ethos of the Community of Nuns and demonstrate Kylemore Abbey’s dedication to Spiritual renewal, Heritage preservation, Education, and Hospitality. An unwavering commitment to Sustainable practices underpins all these objectives.
Conor Coyne is CEO of The Kylemore Trust (not-for-profit, asset-owner of the Kylemore Abbey Estate) and its commercial subsidiary, Kylemore Abbey and Gardens – one of Ireland’s leading visitor attractions. Hailing from Connemara, Conor studied at University of Galway and Trinity College Dublin and has worked across industries, including utilities, finance, professional services, and hospitality. Having spent the first 15 years of his career in Dublin, Conor moved home west in early 2019 and has focused on driving innovation, enterprise, and sustainability in his first four years in the role.
Conor cares deeply about where he is from—the West of Ireland—and considers himself very fortunate to live in a part of the world that millions aspire to visit. He is highly ambitious for the region and sees significant opportunities to capitalize on the great features and attributes of the people, ecology, and spirit of the West of Ireland. “When you see something as important as Kylemore Abbey in a local area, when you are a local, to be able to lead that gives an enormous amount of personal and professional satisfaction,” explains Conor. “I am part of a very committed team in Kylemore Abbey, which has great pride and feels a sense of ownership of the Estate. Over 500k people come to visit us each year, from all across the globe. It is an uplifting and energising experience to work every day in a place where every person on the Estate is striving to have a fantastic experience.”
The Collaborative Leader
Since joining Kylemore Abbey in 2019, Conor has led the organisation in delivering multi-million € capital projects, received national awards for Marketing, Operations and Sustainability, as well as introducing numerous commercial and operational improvements.
His enduring optimism was severely tested during the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a detrimental effect on the hospitality industry. Thankfully they have recovered to a better place than pre-pandemic, in no small part due to Conor’s endless curiosity across multi-disciplines including food, biodiversity, commerciality, hospitality, property, craft, marketing, governance, monastic matters, construction, and agriculture. “I am ambitious for the ‘good’ that Kylemore can do, in terms of social, sustainability, spiritual, education, and economic. This ambition has been recognised by a multitude of awards that bring us affirmation and satisfaction,” adds Conor. “A leader is nothing without a strong and supportive management group. I am fortunate in Kylemore to have a passionate and committed group who feel a deep sense of belonging and affinity to Kylemore Abbey.”
Towards A Bright Future
Conor leads a very committed team in Kylemore Abbey that has great pride and feels a sense of ownership of the Estate. Working closely with the guidance of the Benedictine Community of Nuns, his key leadership goal is to help maximise the talents of all who work with and contribute to Kylemore.
“It is both uplifting and energizing to work every day in a place where every person on the Estate is striving to have a fantastic experience,” he elucidates. “On joining Kylemore Abbey, I was keen for us to act as a showcase for the very best of the West of Ireland. To that end, the vast majority of our on-site food is from Irish ingredients. Over 90% of our retail suppliers are Irish and 28% come from our local county, Galway.” This promotes the local and national economy and is a sustainable sourcing approach. Kylemore Abbey’s focus on quality, a hallmark of the Benedictine Community, has been acknowledged through the numerous awards that we have received over the last five years. These include awards for our Visitor Experience investment, national recognition for our new website, food produce, National Visitor Attraction of the Year 2021, Regional Sustainability Award in 2021, and overall Regional Business of the Year in 2022. Furthermore, reflecting our commitment to our team, we achieved ‘Great Place to Work’ status in 2023.”
“Our commercial performance continues to be strong and has rebounded, post-Covid to be significantly ahead of pre-pandemic levels. All this has been achieved through a distinctly collaborative, enterprising and committed workforce, which I am fortunate enough to lead,” states Conor proudly.
Kylemore Abbey is in the process of completing several capital projects, including a Heritage and Conservation Programme focused on safeguarding the integrity, access, and preservation of its Victorian Walled Garden, Abbey, and Neo-Gothic Church. Furthermore, the Benedictine Community’s new Monastery is due for completion early in 2024. A co-located Education and Residential Retreat Centre will also be operational at the same time. This is a considerable volume of activity for the Estate, and the delivery of these projects will be an opportune time to pause, reflect, and plan for the next 10-year horizon. Therefore, Conor sees 2024 as a time for preparing for the future.
From a retail perspective, Kylemore Abbey has successfully developed and grown the traction of its own-brand produce. These artisan products account for 30% of our on-site sales. “We have become quite adept at ‘bringing the world to Kylemore Abbey’ and now our retail challenge is to ‘bring Kylemore Abbey to the world’. We have recently commenced an on-line retail project and hope to be in a position to grow that arm of our business in 2024 and beyond,” concludes Conor.