November, 2008 found us in the western district of Ireland known as Connemara. A rugged and unspoiled land filled with castles, marble and mystery. And so we stopped for lunch at a little shop filled with the smells of peat fire and hearty thick soup and fresh stone ground bread.
After lunch Mary Ellen and I took the little tram to see the Castle. Funny how I was drawn to it, had to get there, even though time was short. Was it the Jane Austenish exterior and setting or was it something unexplainable and yet to be discovered.
We learned that the Castle was originally built by a wealthy Irish landholder, Mitchell Henry for his wife, Margaret in 1867-1870. After Margaret’s untimely death on a trip to Egypt, Henry and family returned to Kylemore adding lush gardens and manicured grounds. The family left Kylemore for good in 1907 when it was purchased by the ninth Duke of Manchester.
So far the history was interesting but rather common to the era and times, until I ventured into the room describing the opening of the International Girls School run by Benedictine Nuns. In 1598 this Benedictine order of nuns founded in Ypres, Belgium, subsequently opened a school in 1665. It was to provide an education and religious community for Irish women during times of persecution in Ireland.
Under a photo of a bombed out church, the description stated, “The Abbey after the battle, Ypres, 1915” – these same nuns fled Ypres to the Kylemore Castle after the destruction of their Abbey in World War I. I came bolt upright, the battle of Ypres, 1915.
In the first week of April 1915, Canadian troops were moved in front of the City of Ypres. Following an intensive artillery bombardment, the Germans released 160 tons of chlorine gas into a light northeast wind. Yet, the Canadians held their ground. But the cost was high. In these 48 hours, 6,035 Canadians, one man in every three, became casualties of whom more than 2,000 died and one of them was my grandfather’s identical twin Gilbert.
Time is a funny phenomenon, like a thin veil described by HG Wells in his work The Time Machine. A man I never knew and a story I had only heard in some distant past from my Grandfather’s saddened heart became a real presence. It was if Gilbert was thanking me for recognizing his story in the history of the place, in the remembering of his sacrifice, as well as my Grandfather’s loss. For a moment the veil was broken and I felt the two of them, standing side by side, reunited.