County Kildare

Kildare is a king amongst counties. It offers a royal welcome, too

Japanese gardens, Kildare
Japanese gardens, Kildare

Kildare has always had a sense of style. After all, this is the county that hosted the Ryder Cup on a Arnold Palmer-designed course at the K Club. Not to mention Kildare's status as an official Irish Heritage Town.

Mares and foals being led
Mares and foals being led

This is where you’ll find Castletown House, Ireland’s largest Palladian mansion. It’s also where you’ll find Marilyn Monroe’s polka dot umbrella, plus the hot pink cocktail dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s ­– amongst other celebrity memorabilia at the Museum of Style Icons in Newbridge.

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Sitting right on Dublin’s doorstep, Kildare’s peppering of luxury hotels, spas and guesthouses makes the ideal base for a dash into the city. But with so much of the good life right here, you may not get to the capital at all.

There is outlet shopping at Kildare Village; there is gourmet fare in gastropubs; and there are pastures galloped and grazed upon by some fine horses.

The thoroughbred county

Just ask Queen Elizabeth II. The British monarch is a fan of all things equestrian, and visited Kildare as part of her historic State visit to Ireland in 2011. Plum paddocks and many of Ireland’s top studs, stables and racecourses are found in the Thoroughbred County – think The Curragh, Punchestown and Naas Racecourses.

A highlight of the Queen’s visit was a trip to the Irish National Stud: home to some of Ireland’s premium horses. Visit in season and you’ll also spot their bandy-legged foals, but there’s much more besides this picturesque scene here.

In the Irish Horse Museum, you’ll find the skeleton of Arkle, three-time winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. In the Japanese Gardens, there are 200-year-old bonsai trees, lava rocks from Mount Vesuvius and a trail tracing man’s journey through life. And St Fiachra’s Garden here is named for the patron saint of Irish gardeners.

Heritage and honking horns

Not that it’s all horses and high life. Kildare is home to the windswept Bog of Allen, and to a leisurely section of the restored Royal Canal. There’s a masterpiece of an 8th-century High Cross in Moone; and Maynooth Castle anchors the leafy university town of the same name.

Kildare is also home to one of Ireland’s great driving routes. Following the course of the Gordon Bennett Cup, which saw racing daredevils whizz through Kildare, Carlow and Laois in 1903, the 104-mile circuit recalls a time when Ireland’s speed limit was just 12mph.

It was also a time when the sight of a motor car was occasion enough not just to turn heads, but to put the kettle on. You'll be glad to know that today, you can cruise at slightly higher speeds!

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