We love horses and we also love gardens, so naturally being in Kildare for a breakaway, it made sense for us to head to the Irish National Stud and Japanese Gardens.
The Irish National Stud is a Thoroughbred horse breeding facility in Tully, Co. Kildare and is seen as Ireland’s centre of equine excellence. Its central objective to produce Thoroughbred racehorses that are capable of being crowned champions at home and abroad. Not an easy task!
They currently have eight stallions that take pride of place at the stud; Invincible Spirit, Free Eagle, Gale Force Ten, Palavicini, Worthadd, Famous Name, Elusive Pimpernel and Dragon Pulse, as well as steeplechase horses, mares and miniature horses! I wonder what Mam and I would call our stallion…?
Tours are included with your admission ticket (as is access to the Japanese Gardens), and we headed along to one that was hosted by a guide called James.
Even if you’re not into horse racing, hearing about the process involved with breeding winning horses is a fascinating one.
There was a stallion there whose mare coverings cost €120,000!
As mentioned, Mam and I love horses (racing is in our family), and I found myself fawning over the retired steeplechase beauties – we got to see Moscow Flyer, Kicking King, Rite of Passage, Hurricane Fly and Beef or Salmon!
James’ tour was highly enjoyable, informative and full of humour and even though it was clear that he does many tours in a day, he still delivered it with complete professionalism and energy. Top tip though: stand close to the guide, some of the tour groups are huge and it may be hard to hear.
After our tour, we continued wandering around the grounds, where we spotted more champion racehorses and looked at a great video on foaling. Not for the squeamish, for sure.
We eventually ended up in the Japanese Gardens, which were created in the early 1900s. Devised by Colonel William Hall-Walker (later Lord Wavertree) and laid out by Japanese craftsman Tassa Eida and his son Minoru, “the gardens trace the passage of a soul from birth to death and beyond, at the same time providing a meeting place for the cultures of East and West”.
Being honest, it did sound a bit wishy washy at first but as we read the passages while following the laid out route, it became more apparent how much tranquillity the gardens captured.
Another surprise was the food. Even though the restaurant was chaotic (and definitely could have done with a spring clean), the food was actually not bad at all. Mam and I settled on two club sandwiches and despite the fact that they clearly were not club sandwiches in the traditional sense – “hello random diamond-shaped bread, with no lettuce and onion” – it still tasted good.
What we particularly loved about the whole place was how much space there was and how you really got bang for your buck.
Between the actual Stud, the Japanese Gardens, St. Fiachra’s Garden and the Horse Museum, there’s plenty to see. Children too will be kept amused with the freedom to run around (there’s a playground there), and they’re also able to pet the horses.
The only pitfall really is that it’s a bit out of the way without a car, but Kildare town is close by and a shuttle bus operates from the train station there to the Irish National Stud. The shuttle bus is operated by Kildare Village Retail Outlet (click here to view the timetable).
Adult tickets are €12.50, seniors and students are €9.50 and children under 16 are €7 (under five’s go free). More info can be found here.
Pro-tip: If you’re staying at a hotel in Kildare and get a brochure for the Irish National Stud stamped by them, you could get a discount of 20% off admission fees!