The Irish National Stud (+ Japanese Gardens & Saint Fiachra's Garden)

After a spontaneous decision to visit the Japanese Gardens in County Kildare I went on a beautiful day-trip with a friend of mine today. We left Dublin at about 10am this morning and set off on a (roughly) forty minute drive out of Dublin and towards County Kildare. We opted for the M50 to bring us out to the Red Cow were we took the E20/N7/M7 (yes this road has a multiple personality disorder!) into the general direction of Limerick. Near Kildare Village (check out Kildare Designer Outlet if you're in the area) we left the motorway behind us and following the directions my not so faithful iPhone map was giving us we went on a bit of a wild goose chase to find the Irish National Stud.

We got lost a few times, had several laughs about it and just when we were contemplating abandoning the car and strolling through the fields we finally located the Irish National Stud with the help of a very kind shop assistant in a tiny village whose name I unfortunately don't remember. We arrived at about twenty past 11, parked the car on the free visitor's car park and entered the Visitor's Centre of the Irish National Stud, bubbling with excitement about the prospect of strolling around the beautifully designed Japanese Gardens that are part of the Stud's massive estate.

Mare and foal

Admission to the Irish National Stud is 11€ (2011 prices) and includes entry to the Japanese Gardens, The Saint Fiachra's Gardens and The Horse Museum as well as the Stud. A guided tour of the Stud is also included in the price however it is your choice whether you want to take part in the tour or not - I suggest you do. We initially thought we would have to pay 11€ just to see the Japanese Gardens but were pleasantly surprised to find out we'd get four things for the price of one. For the fact that you're paying 11€ (plus costs to get out to Kildare) you really do get your money's worth - see this link for more information on admission and opening hours if I'm tempting you...

With the admission fee paid, we entered the estate and headed straight for the Japanese Gardens with the very intention to walk the path of life, which was designed to symbolise the life of man. Upon entering the Gardens you have two choices you can either take the easy path or you can follow a rugged path through the heart of the Gardens, that will teach you to appreciate the Garden's true beauty with a free lesson about life and love.

The two choices
The rugged path of life is set out as follows and the story behind it is truly one to treasure. The Self-guide to the Garden explains the story behind each step in the life of man.

The Gate of Oblivion

2) The Cave of Birth
3) The Tunnel of Ignorance
4/5) Hill of Learning
6) Parting of the Ways
7) Island of Joy and Wonder
8) Engagement Bridge
9) Marriage Bridge
10) The Honeymoon Path
11) Difference of Opinion
12) Disappointment
13) Hill of Ambition
14) Pray to the Gods
15) Tea House
16) Well of Wisdom
17) Bridge of Life
18) Chair of Old Age
19) Hill of Mourning
20) Gateway of Eternity

Without giving away too much about each setting along the Path of Life, here are some photos I took, for you to enjoy:

'Tunnel of Ignorance'
'Hill of Learning'
'Path of Adventure'

'Bridge of Life'
'Tea House'
'Well of Wisdom'
'Pray to the Gods'

'Pray to the Gods'

By the 'Chair of Old Age'

The entire Garden is beautifully arranged and most of the trees and flowers have name tags, if you're interested. Given the different times the flowers and trees bloom you will find the Garden looking different each time you visit - I for one cannot wait to visit again in August for example.

If you're steady on foot, do take the time to follow the Path of Life - you won't regret the journey, but make sure you're wearing comfortable shoes (made for walking!) with a good grip. Some parts of the path can be quite slippery if you don't mind your step, so CAUTION!

We walked the Japanese Gardens twice to take in all the beauty it has to offer and because we wanted to catch the Guided Tour (our tour guide really loved the word 'basically') around the Stud. During the tour we learned all about Tony the Teaser (visit the INS yourself if you wish to know more, it's too good a story to spoil!), the life of a stallion, the treatment of pregnant mares and foaling. We got introduced to the Honeymoon Suite and visited the stunning boxes of the stallions and mares that live on the Stud (five star treatment!). To finish the tour off we strolled along the stallion Paddocks and met Invincible Spirit, a former racehorse (now a professional stud) worth more than 60 million dollars. For anyone who's interested in racing, he's a descendent of Northern Dancer.

Invincible Spirit is a true beauty, a graceful, strong, proud stud who was only too happy to show us what he could do when we stood by his paddock. He got a little bit grumpy when one of the Stud's employees fetched one of the other stallions from a nearby paddock but even a grumpy professional stud is a graceful beauty. We oh-ed and aww-ed strolling past the paddocks housing the mares and their offspring and I really wanted to take all of them home with me. The little foals were beautiful and there were so many of them - if you love horses you'll be in heaven! We could hardly get enough so we spent the better part of an hour walking around the stud, admiring the beautiful stallions and the mares with their gorgeous foals.

When we eventually managed to tear ourselves away from the horses, we went for a leisure stroll through the Saint Fiachra's Garden. The Garden is built around several lakes and is a true natural beauty. Even through the Garden was man-made it has a distinctive natural feel about it. A little waterfall and various birds provide the background music while water flowers, swans, ducks and ancient fallen oaks grace the lakes. Magnificent trees leave you looking up instead of straight ahead and stone built huts (monastic cells, I should say) awaken the child in you on your search for the Waterford Crystal Garden.

I hope the below photos will convince you of the Garden's beauty:

'Lakeside Walk'

'Mama Duck'
'Ancient Sunken Oak Forest'

'By the Stone Bridge'
With a lengthy stroll through Saint Fiachra's Garden and some childish fun at the Measure Me Tree behind us we decided we still didn't have enough of the beautiful horses so we wandered around the Horse Museum (it was also raining!) and learned about the history of race horsing and Arkle, a truly stunning racehorse (may he rest in peace...). We also discovered that we definitely don't quality as jockeys and I brushed up on my non-existent talent of putting a bridle on a really isn't easy if you're a) not used to it and b) last did some 10 years ago.

Feeling distinctively wiser we left the horse museum and went back to the Japanese Garden for another stroll during which I got to take plenty of pictures and pose for some too. We left the Stud around 3pm after an absolutely brilliant day out - many thanks to the rain which held off until we were back in the car and on the way to fill our empty tummies with some hot carrot and coriander soup, paninis and coffee. We even indulged in banoffee pie (me) and strawberry cheesecake (my friend). It was delicious and the conversation was most interesting - I still can't pronounce the word 'series'.

Our late lunch was followed by a stroll through a garden centre where I admired a whole bunch of Bonsai trees and almost purchased one in a spur of the moment decision. I wisely didn't when I realised that I know next to nothing about Bonsai tree care (a cactus dies in my care, although he did live to celebrate his forth birthday!). I'm now on a mission to learn about Bonsai tree care so that I can go back and buy one for I have fallen in love with a little Chinese Elm Bonsai - I'll keep you posted on how that adventure will go... In all fairness I don't have high hopes...yet.

After this fun-filled exhausting day, I'm now more than ready to have a snack and retire with a movie. Realistically I should do some workout but I've done so much today, I think I'll pass. Laziness shall prevail tonight!

With this I'm leaving you until next time...if you have any questions about the Irish National Stud or the Gardens (or anything else I mentioned in this post...except for racehorses for I know nothing about them!) feel free to drop me a comment and I'll do my best to help.