Perhaps the most important lesson I learned while exploring Ireland’s Ancient East in partnership with Tourism Ireland was that the term is so much more expansive than one would otherwise think. Yes, the country’s oldest and arguably most important sites are all included, but so are more modern destinations that although not 5,000 years old, have all contributed to Irish culture and traditions. That was the case when I visited one of the more unique additions to the list of sights to see in the Ancient East, the Irish National Stud. Sadly, this does not refer to a person but instead one of the premier thoroughbred horse centers in the world. My afternoon spent exploring and learning more about the sport of kings was so much more fun than I would have guessed that I knew almost right away that I had to share the experience with you all. Here are a few things I think everyone should know about the landmark attraction, the Irish National Stud.
Easy to Visit
My road trip around Ireland’s Ancient east had me crisscrossing several counties, including County Kildare where the Stud is located. It’s also an easy place to spend a few days exploring and enjoying everything that Kildare has to offer. Part of that experience was staying at the relaxing luxury retreat, Carton House. For generations Carton House served as the country seat for the Duke of Leinster and the halls of the building have hosted a who’s who over the years from Queen Victoria to Grace Kelly. Today it’s been transformed into a very modern and luxurious hotel and from my own experience it still is very much a country retreat. It’s also a great base from which to explore the county whether you visit another grand estate, Castleton House or the Newbridge Silverware Centre or, yes, even the Irish National Stud.
All About the Horses
In addition to being one of the world’s great centers of thoroughbred horse breeding, the Irish National Stud is also one of Ireland’s most popular tourist sites, although it certainly didn’t start out that way. At the turn of the 20th century, a wealthy Scottish businessman bought the property and built, among other things, a lavish Japanese Garden. He also bred and trained horses at his country retreat, including one that wore the royal colors to a Derby victory in 1909. Not long after establishing this getaway, the Scotsman left and gave his property to the Nation. Of course, at that time the Nation didn’t mean Ireland, it meant the UK. It wasn’t until the 1940s when the Republic of Ireland formally took possession of the property and established what is now the Irish National Stud.
The sun was out and it was a very warm afternoon as I walked around the paths and paddocks, the weather ideal for a visit to the horse farm. Some of Ireland’s most famous horses were quietly walking around their paddocks and I even saw a few younger horses still with their moms. Regardless of your interest in horses this really is one of those must visit stops for the raw beauty of the farm and surrounding gardens, made all the better by some welcome summer weather.
Gardens Worth a Visit
Since the history of the property really goes back to those famous gardens, a visit wouldn’t be complete without spending some time touring what is an impressive sight. The gardens were originally at the heart of the experience and while the design has evolved over time, it’s clear to see why it still attracts more than 120,000 visitors every year. The original gardens were laid out by Japanese craftsman Tassa Eida and his son Minoru. The goal was to symbolize the Life of Man through the use of trees, plants, flowers, rocks, water and other installations. Walking along the path, it was easy to forget that I was in the heart of Ireland instead of an exotic far-flung locale. It was a peaceful and relaxing way to decompress after some country lane driving and made for the ideal first introduction to the many sights at the Irish National Stud.
The Irish National Stud is open to the public and tours are available, an experience I strongly recommend. I know very little about horses, much less the thoroughbred horse racing industry, but even I was drawn into the gorgeous surroundings and the stories of the horses themselves. With a kind of dignity and grace that is hard to match in the animal kingdom, spending the afternoon strolling around the grounds and admiring the horses was certainly a highlight of my time exploring Ireland’s Ancient East. It’s also a great activity no matter your background or travel style. Solo travelers will love it just as much as families will, albeit for different reasons. It’s also nice to do something a little different away from those amazing castles, ancient ruins and grand estates that have made this region of Ireland so very famous. So while it may not have been on your Ireland bucket list, you won’t regret spending some time practicing your skills as a horse whisperer at the Irish National Stud.