Oct 22-29 2002 Ireland
FOX HUNTING IN IRELAND
(As seen through the eyes of Pam)
I closed my eyes for the six hour
flight as the plane soared to the east, destination Ireland.
Awaking to the sound of the flight attendant preparing the cabin
for landing, I looked out the window to see the emerald city of
Shannon. I couldn’t believe I was really going to fox hunt in
My companions Diedre, Jim,
Robyn, Alisha and I had to smile as Dave pulled up in a rented
minivan. Not only was he driving on the left-hand side of the
road, he had to learn quickly how to drive a stick shift with
his left foot. After a few close calls, we breathed a sigh of
relief because he learned quickly. On the way to the castle, we
stopped at a tailor so Jim and Robyn could be fitted for new
jackets. Next stop, Kilcolgan Castle, our home for the next six
We were greeted by our lovely host,
Karen Sullivan, and her young black lab, Jessie. The castle was
weathered and old but was to be expected. It was built sometime
in the 1100's. Karen has done a wonderful job of preserving the
paintings and the decor. It felt very inviting especially the
lovely warm fireplaces throughout the castle.
After brief introductions, we
were off to the farm to meet Johnny, our riding host. He
selected our horses for us and took us out on a trial run. We
found our mounts suitable for the task
- clearing three to four foot stone walls! I had
Chippy, a Clydesdale cross; Alisha rode Stoney, a dusty gray;
Jim had a huge tall fellow named Dugal; Diedre had a legend
named Paddy. Everywhere we went, everyone knew Paddy. He was
well known for his ability to get the job done. Robyn had Anish,
a big light gray gelding who proved to be brave, bold and a fun
That evening, we dined at our first
Irish Pub enjoying Irish stew and fish and chips. There was
always fresh seafood, chowder and fresh vegetables. After our
delicious dinner, we headed back to the castle for a much needed
rest. The night air was very cool with a mist surrounding us.
The castle welcomed us back with its warm hearth. I snuggled
into my comforter and dreamed of what the morning would bring.
Thursday morning, we awoke to
dampness and rain, the first of many; however, the cozy kitchen
lifted our spirits and the breakfast prepared by Uncle John was
great! Into the van, we excitedly arrived at the pub to meet
Johnny and the horses. Each hunt begins and ends at the local
pub. We hacked a half hour down the narrow roads to the fixture
before beginning our hunt. The weather was rainy and chilly even
by Irish standards. As we stood watching the huntsman working
the hounds, our spirits were lifted when we viewed our first
fox! Each hunt lasted four to five hours and we viewed or chased
three to four fox each time.
The hounds had trouble following the
line and back tracked quite a few times. It made me realize how
clever the fox could be; and made me proud of our hounds and how
well they are coming along.
Fox hunting in Ireland is not
for the weak hearted. My visits to the gym, riding my bike and
riding Alex helped prepare me for the task at hand. Riding in
Ireland taught us so much
- we learned from our mistakes. Twenty riders fell off the first
day in the mud and rain. There was no doubt, they would get up
and start again. I personally have always ridden too far forward
which makes it impossible to ride a downhill correctly. After a
three foot wall with a five foot drop on the other side, I hit
the ground hard and ended up with a bruise on my right buttock
in the shape of Ireland! The next down jump, I sat back like I
should and took the jump correctly
cool! The biggest thrill for me was riding at speed from one
stonewall to the next following the field master, Willie Leahy.
The hounds were giving tongue and were in full pursuit of the
fox. As we caught up the fox went to ground. I had a smile from
ear to ear and thanked God for the experience, it doesn’t get
any better than that!
Friday was a special treat,
we were hosted by the North Galway Hunt on a beautiful private
estate. It was a small intimate group and we were able to stay
close to the hounds and watch them work. Jackie, the field
master, had a delightful sense of humor. David, the huntsman,
was training his two sons to hopefully follow in his footsteps.
I was amazed how quietly they handled all the hounds. A gentle
jester of the whip corrected the hounds.
Saturday, Diedre hunted an extra day.
Jim, Dave, Robyn and I went to Galway City Center to shop. It
was market day, so it was full of festivities, food and drink.
Later that day, Jim had scheduled duck hunting. He had a great
time with his two hosts but I never saw a duck. I do know we had
to rescue him from a five foot eleven inch Irish blonde from the
local Pub named Paula. He quickly became known as the most
eligible American bachelor to the locals. We found out the Irish
drinks of choice were Guinness and Jameson Irish whiskey.
Alisha became famous when she jumped
a three foot wall into a three foot deep lake and fell in! It
soon was referred to as “her Irish christening”! She was soaked
up to her neck and still rode another two hours. She gained a
lot of respect for her hardiness. I didn’t want her to feel
embarrassed so I also took a swim. Ha-Ha!
I was so proud of Robyn. We met about
ten years ago when she rode with my daughter, Amanda. She is
like a daughter to me. She has come so far in her riding. She
jumped everything aggressively and boldly which is the only way
you can hunt and survive in Ireland. Jim also did some wonderful
riding. We were told to watch because the Irish horses have a
tendency to take “turns” in midair. Well, Jim found that to be
Diedre learned a lot about the style
and methods of hunting. Some hunts stand around on roads and
fields for a long period of time. The field is not asked to
follow the huntsman too close. The other hunts allow you to stay
close but tend to allow the field master to lark too much. We
agree there must be a happy medium.
Although the weather was
inclement, it provided us with the most beautiful sight of
rainbows we have ever seen. One day we saw two complete double
rainbows! The sun would shine and the rain would be pouring.
One of the highlights of the trip was
Monday, the Galway Races (steeple chase). Out of twenty-thousand
fans, Jim was picked from the crowd and given a special written
invitation to the “best dressed contest party” at the owner’s
suite. He was the first man ever, the first American ever to be
in the top three. He won second place and was on the local news.
He received a huge bouquet of flowers, and five-hundred dollar
gift certificate to a local clothing store. He can use it
on-line in the states. I am happy he won but his head is big
enough as it is, now we have to listen to him for a long time!!
Dave was our driver,
photographer, groom, tack cleaner, etc. We could not have done
it without him. (Sorry about all the back seat driving) He said
he became inspired to ride when he saw us and heard us talk each
night. Monday morning before the races, Robyn, Alisha and I went
to ride one last time and Dave joined us. Johnny, our riding
host took Dave aside and gave him a crash course in jumping.
What a way to learn to jump
- three foot stone walls in Ireland! Johnny said
he was a natural and did fantastic.
We learned a lot from our experience in Ireland. I
have gained a deep respect for the brave bold Irish horse and
the wonderful people who train them. We all came back better
riders and have a deeper appreciation of this great sport.