The Irish National Stud Farm was my absolute favorite place to visit in Ireland, and it is not well advertised. It is a short distance outside of Dublin via the freeway in Kildare. In addition to learning everything you want to know about how they breed thoroughbreds, there are beautiful gardens to enjoy.
At the right time of year the Farm is teeming with newborns. Be sure to take one of the free guided tours for an in-depth look at how breeding thoroughbreds works.
The Irish National Stud breeds thoroughbred race horses. Resident stallions provide “services” to about 190 mares that come from around the world. Guided Tours leave from the Sun Chariot yard. The Sun Chariot yard and the adjoining foaling yard are where the mares have foals in the evening (during the day, they’re in the paddocks). There is a farrier and a saddler and an intensive care unit. On the tour, you get to see the stallion boxes (only 1 stallion, Jeremy, was present, when I was there; the rest were in their own paddocks, which you also get to view).
The stallions provide “services” from January through June. Mares have to appear in person as there is no artificial insemination allowed. There is a teaser horse which first tests the mare to see if she is in season. If he indicates she is, additional tests are done to verify. The mare and the stallion meet in a ring area along with two handlers for each horse and a person in the corner to commemorate the moment with pictures (required to prove paternity). A top stallion can cost €60,000 and the breeder doesn’t have to pay if a mare isn’t expecting by October. All the stallions have won races themselves.
After the stallion boxes, you stroll down the Oak Walk where the stallions are out grazing individual paddocks lining the walk (necessary to prevent fighting).
Then, if you’re lucky to be visiting at the right time of year (March to July), you can go to Kildare Yard where all the mare and foal paddocks are. Moms hovered protectively over their foals who were sleeping in the grass, or they ran around the paddock side by side. One mom brought her foal to us on the fence as if proudly showing him off.
We also saw some Falabella horses, which are one of the smallest and rarest horse breeds in the world.
But there is so much more to see than just the horses.
Be sure to take a walk through the beautiful Japanese Gardens. It had 20 areas representing a person’s life from the Cave of Birth to Tunnel of Ignorance to the Marriage Bridge, Hill of Ambition, Bridge of Life, Hill of Mourning and Gateway to Eternity. There were trees, flowers, plants, paths, a hill, ponds, a teahouse, and a few Japanese-style statues.
St. Fiachra’s Garden
You can also tour St. Fiachra’s garden (St. Fiachra is France’s patron saint of gardens). This garden contains nesting swans, an ancient sunken oak forest, monastic cells, a small waterfall, a statue of St. Fiachra and its oddest feature, the Waterford crystal garden which was in a pit in one of the monastic cells, the glassware lit by green light.
There is also a horse museum, which tells the history of horses from the beginning of time and Irish horse racing. It also contained the skeleton of Arkle, of the most famous Irish steeplechase horse.
There is also the Black Abbey. You can’t tour the Abbey, but it looked pretty foreboding as we passed by. According to a sign near the Abbey, it was founded by the Knight of Hospitaller of St. John in the 12th century. It was known as the Black Abbey because the Hospitallers wore black habits. There is a cemetery on site as well.
If you want to go
Irish National Stud Farm (353-45-521617; firstname.lastname@example.org; irish-national-stud.ie; Tully, Kildare, Ireland; Kildare is about 40 minutes from Dublin. Take the N7 south for Limerick/Cork. Open daily. Guided Tours available daily at 12 noon, 2:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.)
A note about getting to the Farm from Dublin: Driving to the Irish National Stud Farm may require you to drive on the M1 freeway, which is a barrier free toll road. Unlike other toll roads around Dublin, there is no way to pay the toll while enroute. Unregistered users must pay the toll by 8 p.m. on the day following their journey. You can pay online, by phone or through Payzone branded outlets (usually convenience stores – just look for the Payzone sign). Or, you may just get a charge from your rental car company after your trip.