Thundering hooves, glistening coats, steaming breath in frosty air … They’ve been running horses across these plains from the times of early kings. It’s in the blood. It’s in the soul. And gentler pursuits connect with Ireland’s love of horses too.
Horse racing at The Curragh
Horse racing at The Curragh
Did legendary hero Fionn mac Cumhaill and his warriors leave their Hill of Allen fortress to run horses on these ancient plains?
At the heart of Ireland’s Ancient East is one of Europe’s oldest grasslands – the 5,000-acre Curragh. The name means place of running horses or racecourse.

And history echoes legend.
Sculpture of mythical hunter-warrior Fionn mac Cumhaill
Sculpture of mythical hunter-warrior Fionn mac Cumhaill
It’s said that 3rd century kings and chieftains raced their chariots here. Records show 17th century aristocrats match racing – where two owners pitted their horses against each other – on a 4 mile course at the Curragh. Later, cavalry trained here before going to battle... to the Crimea, the Boer War, and the First World War.
Left: Illustration of squire boy with horse. Middle: Illustration of a steeplechaser during race. Right: Illustration of an officer with his noble steed

Pass by this way any morning and chances are you’ll see the breathtaking sight of thoroughbred racehorses being put through their paces by trainers and jockeys.

Hooves drumming, muscles rippling, they’re kings of the turf now too ... it’s exhilarating.
An exhilarating neck and neck race at The Curragh (Image via The Curragh Racecourse)
An exhilarating neck and neck race at The Curragh (Image via The Curragh Racecourse)
Nearby you might see a sign for the famous Curragh racecourse or the National Stud. While in the cafés and bars round here it’s not unusual to see riding boots and jodphurs. Nor for all the talk to be of horses – Irish voices mixing with those from America or the Middle East. 

For these pastures and plains are where world-beating horses are bred, including for royalty. Many of the world’s leading sires stand here – the sons of stallions such as Galileo and Invincible Spirit. And it’s perfect for it. The calcium-rich grass. The temperate climate. The flat grasslands on sandy soil.
And then there’s that other, less tangible thing: the Irish people’s unique understanding and bond with horses. It’s in the genes. It’s in the culture. It’s in the ancient history. It’s not all about thoroughbreds and the turf, though. Sure there’s the thrill of race days to experience. But there are quieter pleasures too.
In the heartlands you can visit bogs where working horses carry peat for fires. You can travel the lanes of rural Ireland in a traditional horse-drawn caravan – slowing right down to a gentle giant’s pace. Or you can go off-road on horseback, trekking through ancient woodlands and old estates, past fields of sheep and standing stones.  
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Left: Tourists relaxing beside a horse drawn caravan. Right: Young riders trotting on their ponies.

In these lush green landscapes of Ireland’s Ancient East, you’ll feel the long history of the Irish and their horses springing into life.

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