The National Stud shows the highly evolved business of horse breeding in action. Here, you can look round the stables themselves and stroll through two attractive on-site gardens (included in the admission price). Based at Tully on the south side of Kildare, it’s a well-signposted 2km from the town centre, across the M4.
The stud farm was established here, by the mineral-rich River Tully, in 1900 by Colonel William Hall Walker, of the famous Scotch whisky family. Hall Walker’s methods were highly successful, though eccentric: each newborn foal’s horoscope was read, and those on whom the stars didn’t shine were immediately sold, regard- less of their lineage or physical characteristics. In 1915, the colonel presented the farm to the British government – who promptly made him Lord Wavertree – on condition that it became the British National Stud. It was finally transferred to the Irish government in 1944 at an agreed valuation.
Within the attractive grounds, with their various yards, paddocks and stallion boxes, as well as a café, you can watch traditional saddlers and farriers at work. But the highlight of the tour has to be the horses themselves. They include fallabellas from Argentina, the smallest horses in the world (above pony height), as well as top stallions who command up to €75,000 for what’s quaintly called a live cover and who jet as far afield as Australia to mate with local mares. From February until July, you should be able to see mares and their young foals in the paddocks.
The beautiful and playful Japanese Garden was created by Colonel Hall Walker along with two Japanese gardeners on a reclaimed bog between 1906 and 1910. A product of the Edwardian obsession with the Orient, it symbolizes the life of man from oblivion to eternity. Over miniature hills and waterfalls, past colourful flowers and trees, you follow from birth to death a delightful numbered trail, which yields a choice between bachelorhood and marriage, as well as a few false leads along the way.
The recently created St Fiachra’s Garden close by is perhaps a little less compelling. St Fiachra was an Irish monk from a noble family who established a much-revered hermitage near Kilkenny town in the early seventh century. The hermitage became too popular for its own good, however, and the saint was forced to move to France, where he eventually founded another retreat near Meaux, 40km northeast of Paris, before his death in about 670. Fiachra always encouraged his disciples to cultivate gardens, from which they could distribute produce to the poor, and thus became the patron saint of gardeners – as well as of French taxi-drivers (after the cabs, known as fiacres, which used to take pilgrims from Paris to his shrine at Meaux). The garden comes across as a stylishly enhanced arboretum, encompassing a lake in which has been placed a group of 5000-year-old bog-oak trunks, branchless and blackened, suggesting not only death but also longevity.