Where I begin to lose the will to live and almost miss my flight…
The morning of my homeward journey arrived bright and sunny with a cloudless blue sky and after an early breakfast I went out to take a few last photos. Across the street from Laura’s house was a pretty corner with a couple of flowers beds and benches and from there I went round to the castle gardens. I’ve only ever been there in winter when any foliage has either been withered or non-existent so I rather hoped that there would still be some colour around the place this time ; there was some but not as much as I hoped as most of the flowers in the borders were already withered and dead, however I got a few photos then made my way back ‘home’ for a quick coffee before saying goodbye to Nellie and Trixie and setting off for the airport.
The coach to the airport was at 10.15am and as going through Dublin’s security was an easier process than at Manchester I should have been in plenty of time for my flight at 2pm, but I hadn’t reckoned on the coach driver who seemed to be doing a good impersonation of a snail. Of course the coach was late arriving in Roscrea but I would still be at the airport in time, however even though most of the journey was on the motorway the driver was going much slower than he could have done. At first I wasn’t too worried but as time went on the journey began to get really tedious and I started to realise that I was in danger of missing my flight if this guy didn’t get a move on. I finally got to the airport at 1.20, over half an hour late, and it was a mad dash then to get to the Ryanair gate which was due to close ten minutes later.
With no queue at security I got through straight away but when I checked one of the screens for the gate number I saw the one thing I didn’t want to see – GATE CLOSED. There was nothing I could do except carry on and hope for the best and luckily the gate I needed was one of the nearer ones ; ironically I’d paid extra for priority boarding but when I got there everyone else had already boarded. Fortunately I was still allowed on and once I was settled in my seat I was able to breathe a huge sigh of relief – I’d just about made it, but with no thanks at all to that snail of a bus driver.
My mad dash through the airport did produce quite a good photo though. One of the things featured in my ‘111 places’ book was the old airport terminal which can be seen from the ‘skybridge’ leading to and from the pier where most Ryanair planes arrive and depart. I’d noticed the building on previous occasions and thought how attractive it looked but never realised just what it was until I saw it featured in the book, so my dash along the ‘skybridge’ was paused very briefly to snap a quick photo through the glass.
Construction of the terminal was started in 1939 and completed in 1942, with the four-storey structure considered to be Ireland’s first modernist building. After experiencing very quiet years in the early 1940s flights and passenger numbers began to steadily increase over the years until the terminal could no longer cope with the demand, and after various expansions to the airport during the 1950s, 60s and 70s the old building finally became redundant for passenger use, although to this day it’s still used in various ways by airport staff.
My flight took off just a few minutes after 2pm and with clear weather all the way across the Irish sea I was able to get several shots from the plane window. Back at Manchester, and after the interminably long 10-minute walk to the airport station, Murphy’s Law decreed that I would have a 20-minute wait for a train; by the time it came the tedious coach journey earlier on had taken its toll and I just wanted to get home so I was quite relieved when I finally got to my own front door just before 5pm.
Apart from that morning’s coach journey it had been a good holiday and although fairly short it had been just what I needed at a time when I needed it. I’d certainly packed a lot into it and over the days I’d discovered a few places which definitely need revisiting – hopefully some of them before too long.
In which I fall foul – again – of the ‘law of Irish distance and directions’ and indulge my love of horses…
Chatting to the two guys in the shed at the bottom of Kildare tower I asked if it was possible to walk from there to the Irish National Stud. I thought it was but I wanted to be sure and they confirmed that yes, I could walk there, it was only a mile – if I took the road opposite the market square, followed it past the Grey Abbey, over the motorway, turned left at the end, next left and the second right would bring me to it. It sounded simple enough but by now being rather dubious about Irish directions and distances I decided to seek confirmation (or otherwise) from the information centre in the market square and a very nice lady in there gave me the exact same directions, telling me it would take me about half an hour.
Now at the speed I walk it does not take me half an hour to cover just a mile so it sounded like this place was a bit more than that. Also it seemed like I would be doubling back on myself, however off I went and after what felt like forever – 29 minutes to be exact – I reached the entrance to the National Stud. On paying my entrance fee in the visitor centre I was given a couple of information leaflets, one of which had a map showing how to get there, and when I looked at it I realised that instead of following the directions I’d been given and going a long way round I could have walked down a different road which would have taken me straight there. Also there’s a regular free shuttle bus from the shopping village so I needn’t have walked there at all, but no-one had told me that!
The Irish National Stud was originally founded in 1900 by Colonel William Hall-Walker, a horse-loving Scottish-born businessman from a famous brewing family. After purchasing a farm and other land at Tully on the outskirts of Kildare town he set up a thoroughbred horse breeding facility and quickly became the most successful breeder of his time, enjoying his finest hour when his favourite Tully-bred colt, leased to King Edward Vll, carried the royal colours into the winners enclosure after a famous victory in the 1909 Epsom Derby.
The world-renowned Japanese Gardens were devised by Colonel Hall-Walker and created between 1906 and 1910, being laid out by Japanese master horticulturalist Tassa Eida and his son Minoru. Planned to symbolise the ‘Life of Man’ through trees, plants, rocks, lawns and water the gardens trace the journey of a soul at it goes along the various paths of life from birth to death. The name Minoru means ‘the favourite one’ and this was chosen by the Colonel for his favourite horse, the one which won the 1909 Derby.
In 1915 Colonel Hall-Walker moved to England and gifted the entire Tully property and land to the Crown ; it then became the British National Stud and its success continued under the leadership of Sir Henry Greer, though the Japanese Gardens fell into a period of relative obscurity. In 1943 the newly formed Irish Government took over the land and buildings and in 1945 the Irish National Stud Company was formed, taking over the running of the stud in 1946 ; also that year the Japanese Gardens got a horticultural supervisor to return the gardens to their original splendour. Fast forward to the present day and in 1999, to celebrate the forthcoming Millennium, St. Fiachra’s Garden was designed by an award winning landscape architect to commemorate St. Fiachra, the patron saint of gardeners.
Turning left out of the visitor centre the first thing I came to was a very ‘flower power’ life-sized sculpture of Minoru, the horse which won the 1909 Epsom Derby. This was part of Under stARTers Orders (the capital letters aren’t a typing mistake) an arts charity initiative celebrating the redevelopment of the iconic Curragh Racecourse and raising funds for two charities local to Kildare, the Irish Injured Jockeys and Sensational Kids. A total of 21 resin sculptures were exclusively painted by some of Ireland’s leading equine and contemporary artists and were put on public display at various locations in and around the county, with the opportunity to buy either online or at a live auction in June.
The cost of the admission included a guided tour of the stud and its various facilities and though at first I’d intended just wandering about on my own I realised that there was a tour starting at 2pm so I decided to join it, having just enough time to snatch a handful of photos before going to the meeting point near the Minoru sculpture.
The tour guide was a very friendly and knowledgeable young lady called Sarah and as she walked the group round she gave out lots of really interesting information about the workings of the stud, interspersed with a few amusing comments here and there. Past a sculpture of Invincible Spirit, the current top stallion, and the entrance to the Sun Chariot Yard foaling unit was the museum with the skeleton of the legendary Arkle displayed in the window. Arkle, owned by the then Duchess of Westminster and named after a mountain in Scotland, won 27 of his 35 races including three consecutive Cheltenham Gold Cup wins, and had the highest Timeform rating ever given to a steeplechaser ; he remains the greatest steeplechaser to have lived anywhere and at any time.
Past the stallion boxes were the stallion paddocks where I was able to see at close range some of the world’s current best stallions. Depending on popularity a stallion’s breeding fees can range anywhere between the price of a car and the price of a house ; the top stallion is currently Invincible Spirit with stud fees of £120,000 per time, he is father to many champion racehorses and his foals can sell at auction for several hundred thousand pounds each. Past the nursery paddocks were the Living Legends paddocks where previously great racehorses can live out their retirement years, with five horses – Hurricane Fly, Hardy Eustace, Kicking King, Beef Or Salmon and Rite Of Passage – currently in residence.
Across from the Living Legends paddocks was the extensive St. Fiachra’s Garden and once the tour ended I went back to take a couple of photos before going to the café for a much-needed coffee and a cake treat. With a good selection of cakes and other calorie-laden stuff I was spoilt for choice but eventually decided on a slice of Banoffee Pie, which was highly delicious and also very filling.
A look round the Japanese Gardens was a must and as the café was right next door I didn’t have far to go to get there. To be honest I don’t really subscribe to the Japanese ‘story of life told through a garden’ concept, I like to look round a garden for the garden itself, but all the features were numbered so I followed most of them – although not all in sequence – without referring to the story, the end of which is actually quite sad.
With or without the story the Japanese Gardens were lovely ; it was a shame it was such a grey day as with sunshine and blue sky they would be really stunning. Checking the time when I came out of the gardens I was hoping I would be able to go back to St. Fiachra’s Garden but there was a courtesy bus leaving the car park at 4.15 and I didn’t want to miss it (getting that would save me the walk back into town) so reluctantly I gave up on that idea.
The courtesy bus put me off just inside the shopping village and from there it was only a short walk across a car park to the bus stop for the coach to Roscrea. I arrived back at 6pm to another of Nellie’s lovely meals then later on I went round to Laura’s to spend a final hour with her before tackling the unwanted, although relatively easy, task of packing my things ready for the following day’s journey home. Apart from the needlessly long walk to get to the National Stud my day had been very interesting and successful, and not having had time to see all that the Stud has to offer means I’ll be making a return visit as soon as I get the opportunity.
In which I climb six near-vertical ladders and look round another church…
After the lovely sunshine and blue sky of the previous couple of days the last full day of the holiday arrived very cloudy and grey but I wasn’t going to let it stop me from going out. My destination this time was Kildare with a couple of places to visit in mind, and I got the 10.15am coach – when it finally came – from Roscrea. It put me off at Kildare shopping village so I thought I may as well have a quick look round while I was there, although the designer shops are all so expensive I would have needed to take out a mortgage if I wanted to buy something.
The first place I really wanted to visit was Kildare round tower, specifically to climb up the inside to the top. I’d first discovered it on a visit to Kildare a couple of years ago but it was early December then and it was closed for the winter months so I’d put it on my list of places to go back to when I had the opportunity. Walking through the town from the shopping village I came across a building which looked like it had once been three cottages but was now just one place with painted windows and doors at the front. There was nothing to say what it was, and in spite of much Googling I still haven’t found out, but round the side was a colourful enclosed space with a handmade plaque on the wall saying that bit was St. Brigid’s evergreen garden.
Kildare round tower is situated in the grounds of St. Brigid’s Cathedral ; built in the 12th century on the site of a previous much older tower the walls are over 2ft thick and at 108ft in height it’s Ireland’s second tallest tower and one of only two which can be climbed. The Romanesque doorway, which is situated 13ft above the ground, is constructed of ornately carved dark red sandstone receding in four ‘steps’, while the original conical cap was replaced by castellations in the 18th century. These castellations have crumbled in places over time so there’s now a steel cage round the tower roof to stop anyone falling off.
At the bottom of the steps leading up to the door was a small shed with two very genial Irish guys taking payment for doing the climb and after handing over my 4 euros I set off on my adventure. Now in the last few years I’ve climbed quite a variety of steep staircases, usually spiral ones, but this wasn’t even a staircase ; a series of six almost vertical ladders took me up through the floors, and though four of the ladders seemed to be fairly modern in construction ladders three and five have been in place since 1874. The tower narrowed in width as I got higher up and the bottom of each ladder was almost touching the wall, meaning there was only just enough space for me to squeeze onto the first step. Added to that was the fact that the top two ladders only had a handrail on one side – this definitely wasn’t a climb for anyone with claustrophobia or a fear of heights.