My plane only arrived in Dublin at 3pm (after a 2 hour delay in Amsterdam), so after going through the whole customs and rental car check in process, it was after 4 before we finally hit the road. Our destination for the night was Baltyboys Inn in Blessington, County Kildare - a little under an hours drive from Dublin - in the heart of horse racing country.
After a quick meal at a local pub, and an early night, we woke refreshed and ready for our first full day exploring. We started the day by visiting the Irish National Stud at Tully.
Horses have been the subject of myth and legend in Ireland for thousands of years, as well as a proud symbol of its heritage. The Irish are famous the world over for their breeding programs and following racing is almost an alternative national religion.
This passion for horses, dates back to the pre-Christian Celts who venerated their horse and saw them as highly prized possession. The esteem in which the horse was held is not surprising when you consider the impact of the animal on everyday life, survival, and battle. For the Celts, horses often held a religious significance, and these mythical animals are featured in many ancient tales. There was a great bond between a man (or woman) and their horse. The Celts believed that the care that they took of their horses was reciprocated, with the horse acting as a protector.
The National Stud was founded by an eccentric Anglo-Irish colonel, who was really into Astrology. In fact, he was so serious about it, he believed that the success of a horse was written in the stars, and he sold foals based on their astrological charts, rather than their lineage or physical characteristics. He also put skylights in his stables so that the horses could be “touched by sunlight and moonbeams”.
This isn’t perhaps as weird as it would seem considering some of the other Irish superstitions surrounding horses. For example, foals born with a cawl were believed to be lucky, however, a foal born at Whitsuntide was believed to have a vicious nature, and a horse with four white legs was very hard to sell as they were believed to be difficult to tame. Anyhow, despite the colonel's not very scientific approach to horse breeding, he certainly managed to leave an amazing legacy!
The Edwardian’s had an obsession with the Orient and the stud also boasts a beautiful Japanese Garden. The garden was created on a reclaimed bog by two Japanese gardeners - Tassa Eida and his son Minoru, along with the help of 40 assistants - and is a fascinating place to explore. It is designed to allegorically portray the life of man on his journey from birth to death. Over miniature hills and waterfalls, past exotic trees and flowers, the meandering paths offer a number of choices, as well as a few false leads - a little like being inside the game of Life!
From the National Stud, we headed to Punchestown race course in the afternoon. Punchestown hosts a 5 day Festival which is Ireland’s top Hunt racing event of the year. We were lucky enough to have our trip coincide with the first day of racing. The festival is more than just racing, there is food and live music that add to making this a great day out.
Since we were in Ireland, we decided to use the ancient Irish system of evaluating the good traits in a horse. According to this method, the perfect horse should have:
- ‘three traits of a bull – a bold walk, a strong neck, and a hard forehead;
- three traits of a hare – bright eyes, lively ears and a swift run;
- and three traits of a woman – a broad breast, slender waist, and short back’.
I don't know if it was the system or just dumb luck, but without checking form or odds, we managed to place a winning bet on the William Hill Champion Chase! Not bad for our first full day in Ireland.
National Stud which includes the Japanese Garden and St Fiachra's Garden, Punchestown Festival