In Co. Kildare, south of Dublin , on the way to Limerick, heading down the M7 from Naas, you pass a large expanse of common land that stretches for almost 2000 hectares (5000 acres). Guy Williams has an interesting take on how the Curragh came to be.
I prefer to concentrate on how the Curragh was created. Particularly the legend of 5th century priestess St Brigid asking the local king for a patch of land on which to build her monastery, in return for relieving him of his asses’ ears that had been the bane of his life.
The king played it cute, telling St Brigid that she could have as much land as her cloak would cover. Brigid quickly gave her response. Summoning three of her acolytes she instructed each of them to grab a corner of her garment and head off northwards, eastwards and westwards.
This they did, until each was brought to a halt, all for different reasons. The first was crossed in her tracks by a hare. The second was confronted by a red-haired woman and the third by a blacksmith brandishing a red hot horseshoe.
His history of the Curragh is a fascinating one, well worth a read.
Nearby attractions include The National Stud, a must for horse enthusiasts. As is the Curragh Racecourse, billed in the late 1600s as ‘the Newmarket of Ireland’. Park up in the early morning around the Curragh and you’ll see many of the local stables riding out their string.
Golfers have been teeing off at the Royal Curragh Golf Club since 1858 (although the Royal but wasn’t approved till 1910). It’s said to be the oldest golf club in the country. Green fees for 18 holes will set you back €35-€50 depending on when you play. And you’ll have plenty of sheep for company.
If you’re into flowers and plants and shrubs of the Japanese variety, you have the Japanese Gardens, laid out in the early 1900s by Japanese master horticulturist Tassa Eida and his son Minoru.
And for those after some designer bargains, there’s Kildare Village, home, I’m told, to some 100 Irish and international brands. Open 9am to 7pm every day.
If you like some history with your shopping, in nearby Newbridge, there’s Newbridge Silverware, on the go since 1938. A relatively recent addition is its Museum of Style Icons.
My pick, though, is less touristy, less fashionable, but I think more interesting. It’s the Curragh Camp, where the Irish Defence Forces are trained. Although only a shadow of what it once was, I find it fascinating. It’s a box of stories waiting to be opened.
There’s a memorial garden in front of the Fire Station across the road from the Catholic Church and beside the Military Police HQ. Here I learned about the Curragh International Car Races, which ran from 1947 to 1954.
1951 will be remembered as the year that Stirling Moss won the Wakefield Trophy. He was only 22 years of age but even then he was in a class apart and well on his way to fame. He also set a new lap record that day.
Oliver McCrossan, who was there himself, has written a fascinating account of a part of Ireland better known for horseracing than motorcycle or car racing.
I also learned about four soldiers of the Irish Army Corps of Engineers from the Curragh Camp who died on 27 January 1941. They’d been trying to make safe a sea mine that had washed ashore on Cullenstown Beach in Co. Wexford.
The memorial wall to soldiers who had died in service of the UN had me checking abbreviations.
- ONUC – United Nations Operations in the Congo
- UNFICYP – United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus
- UNTSO – United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (set up in May 1948, UNTSO was the first-ever peacekeeping operation established by the United Nations)
- UNIFIL – United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon
- UNMIL – United Nations Mission in Liberia
I suspect the list stops in 2003 because, at the back of the Arbour Hill Cemetery, the Irish United Nations Veterans’ Association house and memorial garden stand proud. But I could be wrong. I find it hard to believe that the deaths stopped in 2003.
This marker commemorating the founding of what is now the Defence Forces School of Music sent me down a rabbit hole. The Col. Fritz Brase mentioned directed the first public performance of the No. 1 Band at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, in October 1923. Brase apparently was Kaiser Wilhelm II’s favourite bandmaster. In 1935, Hitler gave him the title of Professor in recognition of his services to music in Ireland.
This memorial to Trooper Paul Fogarty and two others like it had me confused. I liked the simplicity of it but, curious to know more, I found I needed a security clearance higher than what I have. Undeterred, I found this:
On the 20th of July 1986 Trooper Paul Fogarty, service number 844963, died when an armoured personnel carrier he was driving overturned. He joined the Army in November 1980 and had qualified as a tank-driver and parachutist, his father was a serving BQMS at Devoy Barracks Naas, his brother Sean was a Sergeant serving in the Lebanon and another brother was serving with the 3rd Battalion in the Curragh. He was serving with the 59th Battalion, UNIFIL, his home unit was 1st Tank Squadron, Curragh Camp, Kildare. He was 23 years old and is buried in Newbridge Cemetery.
May they rest in peace.
It’s roadside stops like this that make travelling the education it is.
If you visit the Curragh, make time to check out the Military Cemetery, too.