Kildare Cathedral and Round Tower

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After my visit to the Irish National Stud I drove the short distance into Kildare to have a look at the cathedral and round tower. I was disappointed to find that, despite it being a Sunday (or perhaps because of it) the cathedral was shut, so I couldn’t go inside to take a look. so had to restrict myself to looking around the outside.

The cathedral is dedicated to St. Brigid, originally built in 1223 but restored in the 19th Century.

The Norman origins are evident in the overall design – large heavy walls, and squat, square tower. There are Gothic style features too – lancet windows and buttresses on some of the walls – some of which will probably have been added when the building was restored.


There were a couple of interesting gargoyles high up on the wall above the eastern entrance



and an intriguing sign above the door


In the grounds there’s one of the tallest round towers in Ireland.

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These mysterious structures are found all over Ireland (with some in Scotland and the Isle of Man, too). They’re usually in churchyards or stand where there used to be a church. No one really knows what they were for – common explanations are that they are church bell towers or that they were used as refuges from Viking attacks. Barbara of Milady’s Boudoir has a post on the towers she visited during her trip to Ireland recently. This website has an interesting discussion of the various theories and makes a strong case for them being of “lanterns of the dead”, and possibly of pre-Christian origin.

Conforming to the usual design, the Kildare roundtower is constructed of granite and limestone. with four windows at high level facing the cardinal points of the compass and with the doorway above ground level, accessed by a ladder, facing the west doorway of the cathedral. The tower appears to have been built during the 6th century succumbed, fell into ruin and was rebuilt in the12th century. The granite base is probably the remains of the original tower. At 108 feet high it’s the second highest in Ireland.

Visitors can climb the tower, but not on a Sunday. Don’t think I would have had the nerve, though!

St. Fiachras Garden

Who is Saint Fiachra you may ask. I certainly did when I visited the Irish National Stud at Tully near Kildare last Sunday. Well, he was (is?) the patron saint of Gardens and the Stud created a garden in his honour in 1999, designed by landscape architect Professor Martin Hallinan, and officially opened by the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese.

Paths take visitors through wooded areas surrounding a number of small lakes






Autumn colours dominated



In the centre of the garden, a medieval monk’s stone hermitage has been created.


Nearby, in the lake, there’s a statue of the saint.



An internet search took me to the website which reveals that Fiachra is also the patron of taxi-drivers. The Hôtel de St-Fiacre, in the Rue St-Martin, Paris, in the middle of the seventeenth century was the first to hire out coaches.

The Japanese Garden at the Irish National Stud


Colonel Walker, the founder of the estate that eventually became the Irish National Stud, was fascinated by the exotic East. As a consequense he decided to create a Japanee style garden on his estate at Tully in County Kildare. It became fashionable for the British and Irish aristocracy to have Japanese gardens on their estate (I’ve visited examples at Tatton park in Cheshie and Powerscourt in Wicklow, Ireland), but Walker’s was the first.

The Irish National Stud’s website tells us

the gardens were laid out by Japanese master horticulturist Tassa Eida and his son Minoru. Their aim was, through trees, plants, flowers, lawns, rocks and water, to symbolise the ‘Life of Man’.
Even though it was Autumn and probably not at it’s most vibrant, the garden still had plenty of interest. Many of the plants are evergreen and the autumn colours were very attactive.

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Irish National Stud

I’m back over working in Ireland this week. I travelled over on Sunday and rather than just have a wasted day of travelling I decided to catch the early boat and give myself half a day to do something. This meant getting up early, loading up the car and setting out at 6 to drive down a foggy M6 and M56 to North Wales and on to Holyhead.


During one of my previous visits I’d spotted a leaflet about the Irish National Stud at Tully, near Kildare city, and as it was only about half an hour’s drive further down the motorway from where I’m staying I decided it would be interesting to have a look. Kildare is very much Horse racing country with 3 courses – Naas, Punchestown and the Curragh – all close together, Goffs horse sales near Naas and various studs and horse related activities all in the area. I’m not a racing fan myself, but it is a real Irish passion and I thought it would be interesting to find out more.


The stud was set up during the days of British domination in 1900 by Colonel William Hall Walker. We were told that he was a Scot, but a little research reveals his connections with Liverpool. His father founded the Walker art gallery in the city and the family firm was the brewer Walker’s of Warrington (I remember it as part of Tetley Walker) which had pubs in Liverpool and the north west of England. When he was ennobled he became Lord Wavertree and as Wavertree is a district of Liverpool (I lived in the area for a couple of years while I was at University) that kind of gave the game away for me.


He bought land around Tully and set up a stud to breed racehorses. He was somewhat eccentric and adopted a system based on casting horoscopes for his horses! He meticulously recorded a foal’s time of birth, and drew up the birth charts himself. If he didn’t like the stars, regardless of bloodline, the foal would be sold. As daft as that was, he had some success. One of his Tully bred horses, Minoru (which means ‘light of my eye’ or the ‘favourite one’) was leased to King Edward VII and won the Derby of 1909 carrying the Royal colours.


In 1915 he decided to return to England and donated the facility to the nation, and it became the British National Stud. On independence, the British State transferred all the horses, fixtures and fittings over the water establishing a new National Stud near Newmarket. The Tully Estate was passed over to the Irish State which restocked it and established the Irish National Stud, which opened in 1945.


I arrived in time to join the 2:30 guided tour which was very informative, the guide relating the history of the Stud and explained how racehorses are bred while showing us the facilities. I’d strongly recommend taking the guided tour as otherwise it would be difficult to work out what was actually involved in breeding racehorses and the guide had some interesting stories and anecdotes to tell.

The breeding stallions lead the life of Reilly, being pampered and lined up with a host of fillies whose owners pay a “Stud Fee”, the amount depending on the stallion’s pedigree and the success rate of its foals in races. This horse is Invincible Spirit which has a stud fee of 100,000 Euros.


During the breeding season a stallion could be required to “cover” up to four mares.

Each stallion has his own dedicated, spacious paddock where they spend the day grazing (unless they are required to “cover” a mare)


They’re taken out of their paddocks before dark


given a wash down


and escorted over towards their own “stallion box”


where they spend the night


This sculpture by Anthony Scott was unveiled by the British Queen when she visited the Irish National Stud in 2011.


The hollow sphere of zodiac signs, constellations and a foal represent the royal connection the National Stud has had in its 112-year history.

I finished my visit in the small museum on the site which tells the history of Irish racing. One of the exhibits is another famous racehorse, Arkle.


I don’t think he’d win many races these days!

Walker also created a Japanese Garden on the site which, together with St. Fiachra’s Garden, created to celebrate the Millennium, are included in the visit. They deserve their own post.

Wordsworth House and Garden, Cockermouth

Although the weather forecast for the last day of our short break in the Lake District didn’t predict rain, they got it wrong! But we hadn’t intended to go out for a walk but to spend the day mooching around Keswick and then to visit the Wordsworth House and Garden in Cockermouth, just over 10 miles away and we didn’t let a little rain disrupt our plans.

The “Wordsworth House and Garden” is a large Georgian townhouse which is the birthplace and childhood home of the romantic poet. It stands in a prominent position on the main street and today it’s owned by the National Trust. At the moment it’s undergoing some restoration work and the front was obscured somewhat by scaffolding, so the following photograph is taken from the National Trust’s website.

Wordsworth House was the birthplace and childhood home of poet William © John Millar

Wordsworth’s father, John, was a lawyer who worked as the agent for the Cumberland estates of Sir James Lowther. He moved into the “tied” house (it came with the job) in 1765, marrying Ann Lowther, the daughter of a prosperous draper from Penrith the following year. They had five children: Richard in 1768, William in 1770, Dorothy in 1771, John in 1772 and Christopher in 1774.

When Ann died in 1778 William and his brother Richard were sent to Hawkshead Grammar School where they lived with a local woman and his sister Dorothy was sent to live with elatives in Halifax. Their father died in December 1783 and as the house went with the job the children became homeless and had to be sent to live with relatives.

Visitors see the house as it would have appeared when Wordsworth lived there with his parents, and siblings in the 1770s. It’s probably pretty typical of the type of house a Georgian middle class professional family would have lived in.

John Wordsworth’s study


The Clerk’s office


The Dining Room where guests would have been entertained


but wouldn’t have been used for the family’s daily meals. They would have been taken in the cosy Parlour, the main family living room, on the other side of the house, just off the kitchen



The large kitchen


The Drawing Room, another room used for entertaining and impressing guests, is at the front of the house on the first floor, very typical of Georgian houses



The family bedrooms were also on the first floor

Ann’s bedroom


The childrens’ bedroom


There’s a large garden at the back of the house, overlooking the River Derwent





The scarecrow has his own blog!

Wordsworth wrote about his childhood in his epic biographical poem The Prelude and he clearly had happy memories of living and growing up in the house.