One thing we Irish like to talk about is the weather. We have many traditional sayings and phrases to describe our weather, but none better to describe this day than “the rain was coming in sideways”. The day did not start off with the promise of glorious winter sunshine, and cool crisp scent for the hounds. It was a morning for long johns, hot whiskey and roaring fires. The only thing to keep our bellies warm was the fire the adrenaline was igniting. The usual morning routine of feeding and mucking out was giving way to excited chatter, hopes for the day, and those all important hunt preparations. We couldn’t wait to leave the yard and head off to the meet.
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The rain was unrelenting as we arrived. Dark, thunderous clouds embraced the sky overhead as a few of the early morning arrivals came. Winter had truly fastened her grip on the day. The Cooper’s Hill contingent participating was Orlane, a local university student and Tom, an 11 yr old, horse crazed hardy kid. Both extremely excited. They had arrived to join with the Grallagh Harriers for a first time hunt on their trusty and well groomed mounts.
This is Tom’s first season hunting, and today he was riding Jackson for their first hunt together. Jackson, is a 15.2 piebald gelding who can be trusted with the most nervous of riders. Tom, however is far from a nervous rider. He has won hunter trials and local show jumping leagues riding ponies from Cooper’s Hill.
Orlane is a French student, taking a year in Galway to study at the local university. She has ridden most of her life, but foxhunting is something in which she has never participated. Orlane’s mount for the day was Ginger, a beautiful, kind chestnut. Both rider and horse were experiencing hunting for the first time. This day was going to be remembered.
The excitement was building. Those cheerless clouds were withdrawing, as if in respect to the fearless gathering below them. Having done its worst to us, the rain seemed mollified, and softened to a more manageable drizzle. It was good weather for the off!
Every few minutes more vehicles would arrive. Among the arrivals were eight visitors, one of them a World Record Holder of the side saddle high jump and Grallagh Harrier master, Susan Oakes. As always, Susan was smiling and those around her obliged her with a return smile. Shortly after the egress from vehicles the Master, Whipper In and Secetary arrived, hounds in toe in their familiar blue truck.
11 o’clock was the appointed hour for the hunt to begin. With the break in the weather, excitement spread like wildfire, it was intoxicating. The atmosphere electric as the hounds hustle and bustle to get from the transport vehicle to the asphalt to begin the hunt. The riders hushed conversations broken intermittently by boisterous laughter, the greetings of Good Morning to Master Burke, the clamour of box ramps hitting the ground, the clatter of horses shod hooves on the road, the tightening of the girths and scrutinizing tack was a cacophony of frenzied hunt activity. Master Burke returned every bid of good morning with grace and elegance.
Not long there after, all were instructed to mount. Here and there the locals and hunt followers helped out, holding the mounts of the riders or giving a boost to the more senior members. Field Master Hadley was well turned out and with masterful aplomb made himself known to riders one and all. He instructed them to follow and be respectful of the farmer’s lands.
With a sharp blow of the horn and a cry from the Master to the hounds the mornings’ adventure began. The keen and sharpest horses were kept in toe by their riders and an orderly procession began. The first cover was the Bogeen, otherwise known as Foxhall. The name says enough. The foxes were holding court in the cover but were pushed from end to end of it by the hounds and the boggy terrain negotiated with delicate manoeuvres by one and all. There was an early cry, a hopeful moment of a possible bolt, now several cries only to abate and the fox leading the hounds on a merry dance. Give due where it’s deserved Master David Burke didn’t let up but alas there was no joy. Foiled but unperturbed the field was gathered and back to Gurtymadden Cross and onward to approach Foxhall from another direction. Plenty of walls to be had on the way. A dozen or so walls were addressed on the way into the cover from another direction and about as many on the way out. Still the fox eluded the chase and possibly went to ground in the wet conditions. No joy in Foxhall but Fury Hill, also known as Lisheen beckoned, so off we went to see if there was sport to be had there. No joy again but all mounts safely negotiated the walls, the clamour of hooves rung out in the air as the riders and their mounts all jumped from the field to the road to get to Lisheen.
The hounds were busy all day trying to find scent and the next cover offered some renewed promise. The hounds were working well together heads down tracking over and back dutifully as they made their way from cover to cover. We were headed for Shangarrybog and Grange a short trot along a national route. This brought the field to its next cover and while not long there a fox bolted! The chase was on, the hounds were moving with a lot of tongue to be heard. In quick order the field took the less direct route to the chase while Master and Whipper-In took the more precarious route through ditches and undergrowth a wily feat to say the least! Where they went not many would follow. Electric wire had to be avoided and gates, walls, shrubs, stone walls, ditches and many low lying branches negotiated too. They were gone away and nowhere to be found as the light dimmed and the field followed.
Plenty of sport was had nothing to show for all the hard work but smiles, tired bodies and well worked horses. As all huntsmen know you take the good with the bad and a successful day is always a day without injury to man or beast. The Grallaghs will have another day to even the tally.