Irish National Stud & Gardens
Irish National Stud & Gardens information
With highlights such as 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. This 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. You can wander the stalls and go eye-to-eye with famous stallions or take a (usually excellent) guided tour.
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.
The guided tours take place 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. Given that most of those foals 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.