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The long reach of the Knights

The Knights of Malta certainly got around in their day. Only last month I was in Vienna and the hotel  I stayed in had a massive Maltese cross on the gates. Turns out it was the home of the Knights back in the fifteenth century. Around the corner on the main shopping street is the Maltese church. No great surprise really, considering the boys lived close by.

But while wandering the grounds of the National Stud last week, I spotted the Black Abbey and its accompanying tourist information board. Was I surprised to read that in the twelfth century, Tully was the Irish headquarters of the Knights of Malta. Who’d have thought it?

A little websurfing revealed that Ireland and Malta have a shared culture. Although 2514.88 km apart (distance between the two capitals)  evidence suggests that that ideas were exchanged between them. Similarities in artistic design, the megalithic buildings and a fascination for alignments to specific solar seasonal events hint at this communication. The world is indeed a small place.

 

Horses for courses

It’s been years and years and years since I’ve been to the National Stud in Co. Kildare. It hasn’t lost its magic. Six stallions are currently in residence, each with their own private quarters which include a skylight. The stud was started by Scotsman Hall Walker who employed a rather eccentric breeding style. He wanted the horses to be able to look up at the moon and stars and when deciding which foals to keep and which to sell, he consulted the stars. Now there’s a man I’d like to have to dinner.

With fees for cover ranging from €4,500 to €60,000, many of the stallions will be put to work at least 200 times a year. The better their offspring do, the more expensive their seed becomes. Generally, breeders wait to see how their offspring do as two-year-olds. Wouldn’t that be an interesting way of measuring people’s worth – if they were judged by the behaviour of their kids.

The stud is beautifully laid out and exquisitely kept. When she visited last year, the Queen stopped by to pay her respects and, given the sucess her family has had in racing horses sired in the National Stud. Ambling the grounds is a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon – the guided tour takes all of 35 minutes and there are plenty of interesting nooks and crannies to wander into. St Fiachra’s garden is a tribute to the patron saint of gardeners the world over. Rocks and water are heavily featured and the garden itself is just what I’d like to have, if I win the lotto and can afford a place in the country with room for a pony.

Perhaps the oddest feature of all though, is the skeleton of the famous Arkle, who won the Gold Cup at Cheltenham in 1964Anthony Byles has this to say: Arkle was incomparable. Not only was he a great athlete, but he had an inexplicable presence that captivated all who were touched by him. The adulation with which he was regarded extended beyond the racing public. There was no doubt he was arrogant, as could be testified by the way he would appear to swagger round the parade ring or savour the applause after one of his victories. And the heights he would sometimes clear his fences – was he not just taking the rise out of the opposition? Yes, arrogant he may have been. But he had plenty to be arrogant about.

Not far from Kildare Village – the outlet stores, it’s also next door to the Japanese Gardens. Is it any wonder really that I’ve met so few Kildare people in my travels? Why would you leave a county that’s Ireland’s answer to Kentucky and home to the country’s oldest golf course and a race-course dating to the seventeenth century and has some of the most fertile land in Ireland?