Alfred Edward Thomas Watson.

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must be jumped. No matter how slowly hounds are running, and
often when only going to draw a covert, it is a case of jumping
in and out of every field. This has an undoubted effect in reducing

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the numbers of those who hunt, for directly a matn begins to lose
his nerve and dislike jumping he must give up hunting, as he can
never leave the road, and the roads in Ireland are shockingly bad
riding. They are covered with loose stones and have no grass

It is not much use for the funker to wait till a lot of people
have jumped the fence before him ; they will not knock down the
bank and ditch as they do a thorn fence in England ; even if they
do ** soften " the bank a little the ditch remains, and if a bank is
at all rotten it is made worse instead of better by people jumping
over it. An Irish field are well aware of these facts, and few if an^^

(Photograph by Miss L. E. Bland)

go out who do not mean to have a cut at every obstacle that comes
in their way.

Another result of the absence of openable gates is that hardly
any Irishmen carry hunting whips — a cutting whip called a ** cut-
lash" in the south, or an ash-plant often rammed into the long
boot, being the substitute. When an Irishman says that he *' with-
drew "he does not mean that he retired, but that he pulled his
ash-plant out of his boot. This reminds me of an old horse-dealing
yarn which I used to hear told of Lord Spencer when he was Lord
Lieutenant :

"Can he jump?" asked his lordship of a farmer who wanted
to sell him a horse.

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** Is it lep, ycr honner ? '' returned the would-be seller. ** Me
son was riding him with the Ward's last Saturday when he came
to a fince that was absholutely onpractacablc. With that he withdrew,
and poshitively hurried him at it, and the little harse cleared it by
the dirt of your Excellancy's thumbnail ! " — at the same time hold-
ing up a grimy thumb with the deepest of black edges.

As hunting-whips are so seldom carried, dogs who like to bark
at horses are extraordinarily bold and aggressive. I scored pro-
perly off one of these soon after I went to Limerick. I was jogging
along to the meet, and a man on a young horse was about two
hundred yards in front of me. As he passed a cottage out rushed a
mongrel sheep-dog straight at the horse's fore-legs, barking
furiously, and nearly frightened him over the bank. Then the
brute nipped back into the cottage and waited to play the same
game on me ; but I was ready for him, and let him have it with
all my heart, the lash curled fairly round him, and with a howl of
rage and pain he fled to his den. He never forgot it, and used to
growl surlily whenever I passed that way, but he never rushed out
at me again.

The fences also are very different from those in the great
majority of English hunting countries, and require exactly opposite
treatment. In England the general rule is to go steady when the
ditch is on the near side of the fence, and to put the pace on when
it is on the far side; with a bank-and-ditch in Ireland it is just the
reverse. You can safely go a good pace when the ditch is towards
you, but you must steady if it is on the landing side ; if you don't
it is good odds that your horse will not change his feet properly
on the bank, and that you will be landed in the ditch.

If the fence be a double — that is to say, has a ditch on each side
— the bank is sure to be broad enough to enable a horse to change
properly when going at a fair pace. The worst sort of fence is a
high narrow bank with a ditch on the far side.

Falls are certainly more numerous in Ireland than in England,
both on account of the number offences jumped and their trappy
and intricate character; for in Ireland it is quite as fatal to jump
too big as not to jump big enough. When a horse jumps a bank
without touching it he is said to ** overall " it, and if there be any-
thing of a ditch on the far side it is long odds on his getting a fall.
On the other hand, when a horse falls in Ireland he is let down
fairly gently, and is not turned clean head over heels as he is by a
stout bit of timber or strong binder in England.

The great majority of Irishmen undoubtedly hunt to ride, and
right hard they do it. Their horsemanship is of a rough-and-ready
type, more vigorous than graceful — due, I think, to the almost

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universal use of the snaffle bridle, which with nine horses out often

renders the niceties of horsemanship impossible. A south of Ireland

stud-groom whose master's horse I was going to ride once said to

me, ** Take a dangerous tight howlt of her head, Captain, and knock

hell's blazes out of the finces ! " thus neatly describing the style of

riding which he admired. There are of course many first-class

horsemen in Ireland to whom the above remarks in no way apply.

The country folk, especially in the south, are very keen about the

sport, and little work is done when the hounds are about ; the

natives collect in crowds at a favourite covert, and their yells and

shouts when the fox breaks are something to remember. It is a bad

(Photograph by Miss L. E. Blarui)

sign when there are none of them about a covert, for it means that
there is not much chance of a fox.

Nearly all Irish packs are hunted by amateurs. At the present
time the Meath, Kildare, Kilkenny, Duhallow, Tipperary, Limerick,
and Galway, among others, are hunted by their Masters, and it is
only a year or two ago that Mr. Robert Watson gave up the Carlow,
having hunted them for over fifty years — surely a grand performance.

Curiously enough, most of the hunt servants are Englishmen,
and with the exception of Jim Brindley of the Ward Union Stag-
hounds I have never hunted with an Irish professional huntsman.
Champion and F. Goodall, the last two professionals in Kildare, were
both English, as was Gosden with the Duhallow.

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A considerable stir was caused in the English hunting world by
the introduction of " capping " in some hunts two seasons ago. It
has been the custom in Ireland from time immemorial. The usual
*'cap'* is 2s. 6d. with Foxhounds and is. with Harriers, and all pay
whether subscribers or not ; in Kildare a subscriber can compound
his cap for an extra ^^5.

In the matter of scent I think Ireland holds the advantage.
There may not be any more brilliant scenting days, when the
hounds seem tied to their fox, than there are in England, but I am
sure there are far fewer really bad ones, in fact there are very few
days without a fair scent.

It is generally held that a horse can carry a stone more weight
in Ireland than he can in England, and I think this is a fair esti-
mate; a bank takes less effort to jump than a fly-fence, and the
going is generally good, for it is all grass, and there is no ridge and
furrow, consequently heavy-weights get on very well ; in addition to
which there is no heavy cart blood in Ireland, so the big man is not
likely to be riding a horse whose dam spent most of her life hauling
coals or between the shafts of a brewer's dray. All the farm work
is done by light mares or geldings, and until the ever-to-be-regretted
introduction of the hackney a few years ago by a sadly mistaken
Congested District Board enthusiast it was difficult to buy any-
thing but a well-bred one. The alleged pedigree might not be
strictly accurate ; horses were not all by Ascetic and some other
famous sires as usually alleged, but the hard fact remained that any
colt bred in Ireland was the offspring of a thoroughbred horse and
a mare full of good blood, and I believe this is still the case with
the vast majority of Irish-bred horses.

The observant stranger will notice that there are scarcely any
second horsemen. The Irish foxhunter can seldom afford such a
luxury, which fact undoubtedly makes for sport, as numbers of
foxes are headed and runs spoilt by the crowds of second horsemen
that are found in all fashionable English countries.

One of the most notable features of the Irish countries that I
know — namely, Meath, Kildare, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Limerick, Du-
hallow, and the packs about Cork — is the absence of woodlands.
Nearly all the coverts are gorse, either artificial or growing wild on
hillsides or bogs ; and I believe this is also the case in the countries
which I do not know. Cub-hunting is rendered very difficult by this
want of woodlands. Some of these gorses are very big and very
thick, and I have had some weary waits while a fox was skulking
about in their fastnesses and refusing to face the open. Many of
these gorses are in the most exposed situations on bleak hillsides
where no shelter can be got; of one **Cryhelp" in the Kildare

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country I have most uncomfortable recollections, as it nearly a/ways
blew a gale and rained in torrents when we drew it.

I saw a curious incident at " Maine " covert in Limerick. It
is a large gorse, and outside the covert proper there is a lot of
wild gorse growing on the hillside. We had been trying for an hour
or more to force a skulking fox to leave it, but the most we could do
was to hustle him out of the covert into the wild gorse and back
again. Presently I saw him coming along the ditch just outside the
covert ; he caught sight of me and clapped down where a bush hung
over the ditch about ten yards from where I was. At the same time
a hound walked along the ditch straight to meet him, and I awaited


events. When they were about two yards apart the fox showed
all his teeth and snarled viciously. The hound didn't like the look
of him at all, but he couldn't turn and bolt, for he knew that I was
looking. So he just jumped over the fox as if he had been a log,
and marched on down the ditch with his head and stern up, pretending
he had never seen anything. He might have been a coward, but
he was no fool, and was not going to give himself away if he could
help it. As soon as he was gone the fox nipped over the bank
into the covert again.

There are not many hounds in any pack who will single-handed
tackle a fox face to face. Most of them much prefer to have a grab

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at his brush when his head and shoulders are the other side of the
hole in the fence. A terrier has twice the fight in him that a fox-
hound has, and I think this is due to the fact that all fighting in
kennel has to be stopped at once, so that the foxhound gets no
practice; whereas a terrier running about has many a little scrap to
keep his hand in.

All the countries I have just mentioned are grand to ride over.
Limerick is the one I like the best. The going is good, the
country is nicely undulating, which I much prefer to a dead flat;
the coverts are good and well placed, the fences very varied but
well within the powers of a good horse, and the great majority
can be jumped almost anywhere. From many of the best coverts
it does not matter a bit which way the fox goes, as there are miles
and miles of lovely country in all directions. The town of Limerick
is quite on the outside of the hunting country, which lies to the
south and west of it with Groom as the best centre. The majority
of the fences are fair-sized banks with a ditch on one side or the
other ; there are also some stone walls and doubles. The banks are
sound and firm and have little thorn or gorse growing on them, very
different from some parts of Mealh and Kildare, where the great
bullfinches growing on top of the banks make them quite unjump-

In one district of the county about Askeaton there is nothing
but stone walls, loosely built, and some enormously thick, up to
eight feet in breadth. The land at one time must have been covered
with stones, which have been built up into walls to clear it. The
average height of these walls is about four feet, and the enclosures
are small. It is a most difficult bit of country to live with hounds
in, for it carries an excellent scent and hounds fairly race over it,
spurting at the walls and jumping on and off them without a
second's delay, whereas a horse must be steadied and made to jump
them clean, or to double on the broad ones. If he be allowed to
gallop over them he may not fall, but he is certain to cut himself
badly, for they are as sharp as razors, and the slightest touch means
a nasty gash. If the enclosures were bigger it would be easy enough,
but with the small fields and high walls it is almost impossible to
keep up with hounds in a quick thing, and I have repeatedly seen
them run right away from everybody.

I have enjoyed very fine sport in Limerick, including some of
the best gallops of my life. On turning to my diary I see under the
heading January 22, 1894, ** Met at Athlacca. A disappointing
morning, followed by the best hunt I have ever seen. Found in
some wild gorse on Hartigan*s farm, close to the Maigue, and ran at
a tremendous pace to Lisdouan and straight through the covert and

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on to Garryfine, where he got to ground. Dista^nce g mW^s, time
45 tnin., all over splendid grass land and without a ^^ngle check.'*

In the eleven years which have passed since then J fta^g known
nothing better. Hounds got away on capital terms with their fox,
and ran at a tremendous pace all through. We did not come across
a single fence which a good horse could not jump, and the ^ofng"
was the very best. A friend who got a fall about half-way through
told me he rode the last three miles by seeing men standing beside
their pumped-out horses in every field. The gallant fox got to
ground in the main earths in Garryfine gorse, about 150 yards in

(Photograph by Mr. J. P. Tyrrell)

front of the leading hounds. He was none the worse, for we found
him again on February 19, when he again gave us a very fine
run by Croom gorse to Ballynahoun at top speed, then at a steadier
pace past Killiney to Kilmacow cross-roads, where hounds had to be
stopped as it was quite dark.

The Duhallow and Tipperary countries, which lie south and east
of the Limerick, are also splendid riding ; the former, however, is not
quite such good going as the other two, and becomes heavy in wet
weather. In Tipperary some enormous banks are to be found, some

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with ditches on one or both sides and some without. How and why
these huge fortifications have been erected is a puzzle to me, and I
never got much fun out of jumping them. You have to go at them
slowly, jump half way up, and then reach the top by a second effort.
Some horses will jump boldly from the top, some will come down
in two, and others, if there is no ditch, will walk down them.

Fethard is the best centre for Tipperary, and you can hunt
seven days a week there with fox and hare, for there is a Sunday
pack which goes out regularly after Mass. These Sunday packs
exist in many places. The hounds are a somewhat scratch lot,
composed of foxhounds, harriers (including the old Irish black-and-
tan hound), beagles, and terriers of all sorts, but they afford their
followers a deal of '* divarshun." When the troubles were bad in
Limerick about twenty years ago, and the county hounds were
stopped, a local car driver, a great character, hunted the country
with a pack of this description. He used to keep them in a stable
by day and turn them out into the streets to pick up their living at

The United, the South Union, and the Muskerry hunt the
country round Cork. It is a hilly district, and most of the banks
are stone-faced, and without ditches. On account of the great
amount of wild gorse growing on the hillsides it is often difficult to
find a fox, for they are not over- plentiful, and there are so many
places where they may be lying. Hounds get very tired of drawing
acre after acre of this impenetrable covert.

For many years the cavalry regiment quartered at Ballincollig
used to hunt the Muskerry Hounds. When my regiment, the
loth Hussars, was there, Lord William Bentinck was Master and
huntsman, and first rate in both capacities. We had some capital
hunts, but were somewhat short of foxes, and if it had not been for
one old customer who never failed us, I do not know what we should
have done in the Monday country. It would have been a fearful
calamity if we had caught him ! I hear people grumbling some-
times and saying we have too many foxes in Leicestershire. I wish
they had had some of the long draws and blank days I have had to
put up with ; and it is by no means my experience that foxes run
any better where they are scarce than where they are plentiful.
Kildare is a rather curious country, for one end is utterly different
from the other. The north end is a flat galloping bank-and-ditch
country, while the south is cramped and hilly, with high dry banks ;
a range of mountains runs all along the east boundary, and the Bog
of Allen lies to the west. A fox found towards the east is very apt
to run up the mountains, and hounds have frequently had great
hunts all to themselves among the grouse, the heather, and the

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rocks. There are several big bogs in the country, but Iiic^kily £
do not like crossing them, and seldom do so; worse obstacle ^^^
the domain walls, of which there are a great number. JVf ost o^^ ^^^
men's places in Ireland are surrounded by a wall about iroft^ K-
The fox has several places where he can get over, ofien h>y the K
of the ivy which grows freely on them, but the hounds cax^riot fbJj
him, and much time is lost in taking them round by the riQ ^^
gate. These walls spoil many a run and save many a. fox's iv^^
At Jenkinstown, in Kilkenny, the foxes often used to lie on ti^^ - ' ^*
covered wall, which is broad as well as high. ^'

I had two excellent seasons in Kildare. Colonel R. Sf r

(Photograph by Mr. J. P. Tyrrell)

Moore was Master, and Goodall huntsman, the best of the sport
being in the north end, from Cooltrim, Laragh, and Betoghstown,
and in the district round Punchestown and Edestown, all of which
is a capital country to ride over, but requires a really good hunter.
I have no hesitation in saying that if a horse can go well in Kildare,
he will not be found wanting in any country, English or Irish.

A great friend sends me the following note : " The Laragh run,
November 26, 1859. — This is popularly accepted as the record run of
the Kildare Hounds, as well it might be, considering the country run
over (probably unsurpassed in the three kingdoms), thQ distance, the

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straightness, and the finish. The Master, Lord Naas, had a sprained
thigh, and was driving in a gig; he drew the covert with only a
couple or two of hounds, in order to avoid the chance of chopping
some turned-down cubs. A fox went away at once and crossed the
canal into the Meath country, from which it is probable he had been
hunted the day before. The field picked up hounds at Colinstown,
a Meath covert; two foxes went away, but Stephen Goodall, the
huntsman, refused to hunt them. Shortly afterwards the hunted
fox broke, and the best part of the run began. He went by Kilcarty
covert to Grange, by which time most of the field were settled, and
from there to a small spinney at Swainstown, where they killed him
— 18 miles in i hr. 40 min. over a perfect line of country.*'

But we need not go to such ancient history for records of good
runs. At the opening meet on November 6, 1883, hounds found
in Kerdiffstown and killed their fox in the outskirts of Dublin, more
than a twelve-mile point without touching a single covert ; while
in October 1899, Colonel de Robeck being Master, and Fred
Champion huntsman, they found in a bit of wild bog just outside
Narraghmore Wood, and killed him under the walls of Newbridge
Barracks, a point of ten miles.

As an instance of what hounds will do entirely on their own,
I give an account of a run in Colonel R. St. Leger Moore's time :
*' January 23, 1890. — Found in Copelands and crossed the Carrigower
brook, then over the left shoulder of Church Mountain, where the
ground became quite impassable for horses, being very rough and
thickly covered with snow. Hounds ran on by themselves, and
eventually killed their fox at Humewood Cottages, a nine-mile point,
but Heaven knows how far the hounds ran over the snow-clad
mountains. Time from start to finish three-and-half hours, for two
hours of which no one was near them. Goodall got up soon after
they had killed and saved the mask."

Meath is a fine country, renowned for the tremendous breadth
and depth of its ditches, especially on the Dublin side. Many of
them are eight feet deep and V-shaped, so that if a horse gets in he
takes a lot of getting out, the services of the " wreckers " with their
ropes and spades, and the expenditure of a sovereign, being generally

There is a grand stretch of country round Fairyhouse, and I
have had many a good gallop over it with the Ward Union Stag-
hounds. They try to make the sport as natural as possible, and the
deer is not uncarted in full view of the field, as is the custom in
England. He is turned out a mile or more from the place of meet-
ing, quite quietly, and without being yelled and ridden at by excited
and ignorant crowds of foot and horse. The hounds are then

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trotted up and laid on as they are to the wild stag after the tufters
have been stopped.

I remember one very pretty hunt. It was late in March, and
the weather was hot and dry. When hounds were laid on the scent
was very bad, and they could only pick out the line quite slowly for
a mile or two. The stag had, however, waited for us in the cool
waters of a little pond under some willows. When hounds got close
to him he jumped up, gave himself a shake, and away he went with
hounds hard at his heels. He gave us a grand gallop of some six
miles over a lovely country till he found refuge in another pond,
where he was safely taken.

Kilkenny I don't know well, but it seems to me to be a grand

(Photograph by Miss L. E. Bland)

galloping country ; the fences, perhaps, are not so formidable as in
some of the other countries which I have mentioned, but as it is
hilly and carries a good scent, a fast horse and a stout one are
most necessary.

An old friend and a good judge sends me his opinion of Kilkenny
as follows : —

1. Wonderfully good scenting country, and nearly all grass.

2. Every conceivable variety of Irish fence.

3. Ample scope for six days a week. (It has been hunted nine.)

4. Very getoverable, and practically no wire.

NO. cxxvi. VOL. jxii.— January 1906 C

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He winds up by saying that it is the finest country on earth.
He also sends me the following reply by a horse-coping farmer to an
inquiry as to whether he had a good horse for sale : — ** No, Meejor,
I've no very good horse by me now, but I had the right one last year ;
but, Meejor, he was that lazy that you'd no sooner got over one
lep than you had to get out the ashplant to prepare him for the next.
He took a deal of nourishment."

Such is a very imperfect sketch of some of the best hunting
countries of Ireland, and there are others very good — Galway, Ros-
common, etc., in which I have never hunted, besides large tracts
which are at present not hunted for want of a little money to make
coverts, etc. It seems to me that this great national asset is not
put to the use it might be. England is growing more crowded every
year, towns, mines, railways, etc., are ever on the increase, and in
the South of England the shooting interest is making itself very
seriously felt. In Ireland there is room for all and to spare, and
much English gold would be brought into the country through the
development of fox-hunting. Ireland is essentially the country for
a man of moderate means, for a fiver goes a good deal further there
than it does in England.

The one " crab " to the country is the political situation and the
trouble caused thereby. Hunting was never stopped in Ireland be-
cause the people disliked it ; on the contrary, they love it and all to

Online LibraryAlfred Edward Thomas WatsonThe Badminton magazine of sports and pastimes → online text (page 3 of 52)