Irish National Stud & Gardens
Irish National Stud & Gardens information
Lonely Planet review
With highlights like the 'Teasing Shed', the Irish National Stud, about 3km south of town, is the big attraction in the locality – horse-mad Queen Elizabeth II dropped in during her historic 2011 visit. The stud was founded by Colonel Hall Walker (of Johnnie Walker whiskey fame) in 1900. He was remarkably successful with his horses, but his eccentric breeding technique relied heavily on astrology: the fate of a foal was decided by its horoscope and the roofs of the stallion boxes opened on auspicious occasions to reveal the heavens and duly influence the horses' fortunes. Today the immaculately kept centre is owned and managed by the Irish government. It breeds high-quality stallions to mate with mares from all over the world.
There are guided tours (many of the guides have a real palaver) of the stud every hour on the hour, with access to the intensive -care unit for newborn foals. If you visit between February and June, you might even see a foal being born. Alternatively, the foaling unit shows a 10-minute video with all the action. You can wander the stalls and go eye-to-eye with famous stallions. Given that most are now geldings, they probably have dim memories of their time in the aforementioned Teasing Shed, the place where stallions are stimulated for mating, while dozens look on. The cost: tens of thousands of euros for a top horse.
After the thrill of seeing such prized stallions up close, the revamped Irish Horse Museum is quite disappointing; its celebration of championship horses and the history of horse racing is one step above what you'd expect to see from a really good school project.
Also disappointing are the much-vaunted Japanese Gardens (part of the complex), considered to be the best of their kind in Europe – which doesn't say much for other contenders. Created between 1906 and 1910, they trace the journey from birth to death through 20 landmarks, including the Tunnel of Ignorance, the Hill of Ambition and the Chair of Old Age. When in bloom the flowers are beautiful, but the gardens are too small and bitty to really impress.
St Fiachra's Garden is another bucolic feature, with a mixture of bog oak, gushing water, replica monastic cells and an underground crystal garden of dubious distinction. Both gardens are great for a relaxing stroll, though.
The large visitor centre houses the obligatory cafe, shop and children's play area. A tour of the stud and gardens takes about two hours.
Lying outside the site, behind the museum, are the ruins of a 12th-century Black Abbey ; and just off the road back to Kildare is St Brigid's Well , where five stones represent different aspects of Brigid's life.