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Is it the GPS? Yes, I do believe so. Marital relations have been much more pleasant now that we have a second woman bossing us around  – one we can really have confidence in.

It turned out that Fethard (pr ‘Feathered’), whence we lobbed by sticking a pin in the map of Ireland and telling our GPS lady to take us there, was exactly where we needed to be for a short drive (like, in the event, 3km) in the morning to Coolmore Stud for the thrill of Robert’s lifetime.

It was also a medieval town with some great features including a town wall still largely standing, and a sort of castle thing in quite good condition, and plenty of charm. Plus an Irish slant on the history of it; eg Oliver Cromwell stabled his horses in the abbey ‘as a gesture of disrespect’; he seems to have had a penchant for this sort of thing – or religious horses – because at Rosslyn Chapel in Edinburgh he also stabled his horses in the chapel, but their guide book just said that he stabled his horses in the chapel.

coolmoreCoolmore Thoroughbred Stud has been the keystone for the development of the profile of the Irish thoroughbred industry for the last 40 years. They took a punt on going big and it paid off, big time. Some of the greatest sire names of international racing were there for the viewing either in the flesh or via their halters, life-sized bronze statues or luxurious stables (Galileo, Danehill, Danehill Dancer, Holy Roman Emperor, Yeates, Zoffany to name just a few). Courtesy of Lex Heinemann, who organised our visit, and with the good graces of a young man called Peter Steele who showed us around and shared information and his time most generously, we had a fantastic overview of its operation.

4500 acres of it – they have a huge complement of stallions and mares, with many outside mares served in a season. Coolmore offers employment to many people, with cattle, hay-baling, and usual farming activities keeping them more than occupied, along with the corporate administration of such a large international business. It was fantastic to have the opportunity to look around, and a wonderful business for Ireland.

After Coolmore, conscious that we only have 2 ½ days total in Ireland, we stuck another pin in the map with a view to seeing the Atlantic Ocean (Robert for the first time); the placename of Ballybunion added to the attraction of our choice and thence we headed. Through, I have to reiterate, magnificent countryside. With our GPS lady’s gracious consent we kept off the amorphous freeway, consulting the compass every now and then to see which way was up.

We forged our way through narrow country lanes with stone fences, hedges abounding, wall-to-wall cattle & sheep, colourful and happy villages, lots of flowers and colours and fresh-painted houses. It was a lovely day’s drive.

The Irish people were all really friendly except for the woman Robert accidentally captured when he opened his door without looking after I parked half on the street, half on the narrow pavement in a little town. It was very undignified for her and despite his earnest apologies (she obviously didn’t know how rare this was) her reaction was comical in the extreme – abso-bloody-lutely furious – and her rage exuded from her retreating back all the way down the street. Don’t blame her. Bloody tourists.

Ballybunion was blowin’ a right gale straight off the Atlantic; we lobbed into a motel and got a great room at a great price because of being Australian (once it was ascertained that we weren’t South African), with a view over the Atlantic and part of this enchanting town. The driver (me) was exhausted. But it felt like the right thing to do to go out in the gale and battle against the wind down the cliff to touch the Atlantic, feel the salt (and rain, as it suddenly happened) in our hair, check out the golfcourse and wish (!) Robert could have a game there (4th most famous in the world, visited regularly by Bill Clinton whose statue is in the main drag), and wish we had time (hoho, what a SHAME!) to go to the races tomorrow.

©jane grieve

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