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Saturday, October 27, 2007



There’s nothing like the beauty of a thoroughbred—sleek, graceful, and muscular—a horse whose movement is smooth rhythm, a spellbinding ballet. Here in Ireland the thoroughbred is king. The stallion rules, and we traveled to The Irish National Stud Farm, surely horse heaven here on earth.

Ireland is known for its strong and successful thoroughbred race horses. The theory is that since certain parts of Ireland sit on limestone, the grass absorbs the calcium. The horses eat the grass and develop very strong bones. Strong bones are needed to breed resilient racers. Resilient racers endure and win, have fewer injuries, and produce successful offspring.

There’s more to just race horses on the farm. We took a walking tour of the stud farm, and we first saw miniature horses that may be the next thing in help for the blind. These horses can even be house trained! Can you imagine?

But it was the big horses—the thoroughbred beauties—we came to see. Friendly seven month olds come right to the fence to nuzzle and be petted. They’re exposed to human contact very early in their lives, and we were the beneficiaries. We saw handsome stallions whose stud fees go as high as $50,000. Yep! And that fee is collected up to 200 times a year. What a life! What a way to make a living! By the way, it’s too expensive to keep the mare at the farm until she foals, so she’s shipped home to spend her pregnancy there. She may come back, though, to have her foal.

These studs are pampered. There are skylights in their stallion boxes. There is a brass plaque on each door stating the stallion’s name and details of his racing career. They get special feed. They’re offered different combinations of food until the trainers discover their individual preferences. Then they get that. The same is done with their bedding. Must keep the big boys comfy cozy! Music is piped into their stalls. Even the music is individually selected through their reactions to different selections. These stallions rock ‘n roll, sway to classical, and listen to whatever they like. Watta life!

The meadows, paddocks, stalls, and nearby Black Abbey, instituted after the arrival of the Anglo Normans in 1169 as a preceptory for the order now known as the Knights of Malta, and Japanese Gardens where you stroll through the “Life of Man” makes this another place one shouldn’t miss.

For fun tonight we head to Murphy’s Pub for a rollicking sing with three Irish guys and a lot of Guinness and Harp! Two or three times a week these men gather at Murphy’s with other locals and sing Irish songs.

We’re an international group. Though primarily American and Canadian, we’ve got some Australians and New Zealanders too. We don’t know each other well yet, but joining the fun is irresistible. We get right into the mood and begin with several choruses of “When Irish Eyes are Smiling.” We go through every Irish song any one of us knows, and then the trio sings others. One about the famine called “My Old Man” had some of us crying. I’m not kidding. Sad Irish songs are the saddest! Here, as in the show the other night, someone played the bodhrán, an ancient Irish drum that was reintroduced to Irish music in the 1970s and is now a necessary instrument. The bodhrán added to the music with the strength of its rhythmic pounding reverberating throughout the room.

The trio gets one of us, Brenda, to sing along with them. Once she agrees, the rest of us rise to the next level. Our table rocked. Marge got up and danced solo, and when she rejoined us, two other couples got up and danced to the music and to our singing. It was glorious.

Rob was sitting nearest to the trio, and he got into a conversation about the difference between Guinness on tap and Guinness in a bottle. Not only was there a huge difference, said the man whose bottle remained close at hand, but he wanted Rob to share his Guinness with him. Which he did! Yes, he decided, a huge difference.

Heart warming to me and Rob was the way the evening ended—the same way it ended at The Merry Ploughboys. We were asked to stand while they played and sang Ireland’s National Anthem. We could hear their hearts in their voices. Beautiful. Proud.

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