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.