MVH Around the World

2010 Ireland Trip Story  Flowerhill 11/6  Galway Blazers 11/9  County Roscommon 11/10  County Clare 11/11  Galway Blazers 11/13

Memories of the Miami Valley Hunt (MVH) Fox Hunting Trip to Ireland
November 5-14th 2010

PLANNING THE TRIP

A fox hunting trip to County Galway Ireland was in the planning stages by Donna and Mark Masters well over a year before it happened.  They persisted in keeping the dream alive by sending out potential itineraries, cost estimates and dates.   Ten MVH members expressed intentions to go:  Donna and Mark Masters, Jane and Devon Jacobs, Mac and Mary Alice McFarland, Diedre Koik, Pat Slusser and Linda and John McKean.     

 At the MVH Christmas Party in December 2009, I volunteered to help Donna with the arrangements. As luck would have it, I found a B&B, Craig Country House, right in Galway hunt country that had a 5 star review on Trip Advisor and was rated the top B&B in the area.   I also learned by reading guest reviews that it was owned by the huntsman of the Galway Blazers, Tom Dempsey and his wife, Mairead.  I was so excited…could we really be that lucky to stay with the huntsman’s family?   I emailed Mairead the end of December and booked all 5 guest rooms with en suite bathrooms. With lodging arrangements finished, we could now focus on deciding which hunts to visit as there were many within easy driving distance of our B&B. 

(http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g211935-d664642-Reviews-Craig_Country_House-Loughrea_County_Galway_Western_Ireland.html).                                                                     Country Craig House (CCH)  http://www.craigcountryhouse.com/

 
LIFE HAPPENS – MVH GROUP OF 10 SHRINKS TO 4

After booking our B&B, we had a long 11 month wait and life began to impact our plans.  The first accident impacted Pat Slusser. Pat was whipping at a hunt and galloping through the trees when she got tangled in a grape vine and yanked off her horse.  While recovering from this fall, she had yet another when her horse stumbled and broke her collar bone.  This fall grounded her riding for 12-16 months.  That was the end of Ireland for Pat. 

 The next accident strikes Mark Masters in May.  As he’s mounting one of their horses the horse breaks out bucking and Mark hits the ground and shatters his ankle.   Mark was unable to ride most of the summer but he recovered in time to go to Ireland. 

 Mac and Mary Alice McFarland begin looking after Mac’s mother as she’s in her mid-nineties so they regretfully cancel.   Diedre Koik, our huntsman, opts out of going to Ireland unless the economy gets better.  Unfortunately, the economy doesn’t get better.

 In July, the three remaining couples (the Masters, Jacobs and McKeans) book airfare and begin counting the days until we leave.   We make plans for hunts, hirelings and sight seeing.    With all this planning, the reality of fox hunting in Ireland starts to hit home.  We’re all thinking about jumping those stone walls and wondering whether or not we have what it takes to do this safely.   Donna and I attended the Camargo Hunt Jump Clinic in July and got some great tips from Janice Holmes on how to jump stone walls safely in Ireland.  John also took a couple lessons from Janice in order to get better prepared for the ditches and banks at Scarteen. 

 Jane Jacobs spent the summer wrestling with health issues until surgery was her only option.   Following surgery she was recovering nicely and still planning to go to Ireland but a week before the trip she was hospitalized for complications.  That ended the trip for Jane and Devon.  

I expected to get covered in Irish mud every hunt so prepared by bringing lots of clothes.    With the help of my generous fox hunting friends, Pam Grusz and Candy Carlson, I borrowed a few things to be totally well prepared.   Candy loaned me her beautiful and warm “Melton Frock Coat” and Pam let me use her heavy duty won’t-ever-fail-you hairnet.   I was ready!!!

It’s less than week before we depart we we’re down to 4 PEOPLE…..we’re beginning to wonder WHO WILL MAKE IT ALL THE WAY TO IRELAND?    

 IRELAND

You can see all the video and pics from the trip at the following link on Miami Valley Hunt’s website:  http://mvhunt.net/intl2010ireland.htm

DAY 1 - SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 6H

Our Delta flight from JFK touched down in Shannon about 40 minutes early (approx. 7:30 AM).   We breezed through customs and headed for our rental cars.  We had a rainbow to welcome us (see pic below).  This was just one of many double and single rainbows we saw on the trip. Below is a pic of Donna and Mark in their car. Donna is intent on setting up the GPS directions  and Mark is getting ready for driving on the “other side”.  If driving in Ireland I recommend four things:  a GPS, a small car, a driver with good distance judgment for the small roads and an automatic so you have less to think about if you’re hesitant to drive over on the “wrong side of the road”.   

                                                         

We arrive around 10:00 AM at Craig Country House (CCH) near the village of Craughwell without incident other than a couple of wrong turns due to construction.   Four adorable Jack Russells greet us in the driveway. We are warmly welcomed at the door by Kitty, Mairead’s mother.  The home is gorgeous and well-accented with hunting memorabilia.     Kitty directs us to our rooms which are on the second floor and Mairead invites us to tea in the kitchen.  At tea, we meet Tom’s Aunt, Angela, who is a delightful Catholic nun who is staying at the CCH while she recovers from shoulder surgery.   We also meet Tom and his daughter Katie as they get ready for the day’s hunt   Tea is served with Irish brown bread and toast and jelly. This really hit the spot.  

We learn that Tom and Mairead built the house about 5 years ago on property that had been in his family.  Prior to CCH, Mairead had a successful B&B business near Bunratty Castle.  CCH sits on about 30 acres, some of it fenced where young horses owned by Tom’s father graze.  They also have chickens for fresh morning eggs and 4 jack russells that look after the chickens and keep the foxes at bay.

   
                                                    

FLOWERHILL EQUESTRIAN CENTER        http://www.flowerhill.net/

On our day of arrival, we had plans to exercise hounds with Oliver Walsh, huntsman for County Roscommon Hunt and owner of a Flower Hill Equestrian Center.  Riding out with his hounds was a nice warm up before we went to the hunt field.  Flowerhill is a beautiful equestrian holiday estate offering a cross country course, 250 acres of riding, and horses for hire.  The horses are Irish Draught crosses and have a reputation of being great jumpers.    Oliver’s house is amazing, by our standards it’s a mansion.  His land is beautiful with some gently rolling hills and a small river. 

Once arriving at Flowerhill, we quickly mounted our horses:  Peter Pan (Donna), Mr. Fox (Mark), Ivory (John) and Latte (Linda).  Directions were to follow Oliver and the hounds if we didn’t want to jump or to follow Michelle who was acting as the Field Master if we wanted to jump.   Donna opted to go with Oliver and the hounds so she didn’t have to jump but John and Mark called her back because they thought she was supposed to stay behind the field master.  That put Donna very shortly on a line heading for some jumps and Peter Pan was more than willing to “FLY” over them.  He had a career as a prelim jumper and he was ready to show Donna just how HE DOES IT!   Shortly after we broke into a canter and started heading out over a few jumps, Donna opted to take Peter Pan back to his “Castle” as he was very forward and ready for some fun!!

That left the 3 of us to follow Michelle around some jumps in the vicinity of where Oliver was working the hounds with his whips.  We rode for about an hour.   The jumps were very inviting.  After our ride we were invited into Oliver’s house for tea.   We had good conversation and discussed hunting and horses.  I highly recommend visiting Flowerhill to experience their inviting jumps and great horses.  If I returned to Ireland for more hunting, I would spend more time here enjoying the jumps and getting lessons to improve my jumping over stone walls. 

 Below are two you tube links from John’s helmet cam showing our ride around Flowerhill.  The pics are of hunt horses in the stables, Oliver Walsh, and Donna and Mark relaxing over tea. 

                                         

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNL9IxnrIoY – Flowerhill Hound Exercise

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBARtp4Ibu8 – Flowerhill Jumping

We head back to CCH.  Two new guests arrived, two ladies from Dublin who were in the area to celebrate a local birthday.  The wine flowed before dinner, and we were all ready to eat when dinner was served.  We had a beautiful dinner prepared by Mairead and Tom.  The starter was a delicious cucumber and shrimp salad, the main course was a delicious roast with two types of potatoes, vegetables, and two dessert choices.  The conversation was lively and fun, and there were lots of good jokes and story telling.  We practiced our Irish accents and the Irish practiced their “American”.  We were exhausted and retired shortly after dinner.    Below are some pics from dinner including a bottle of Buckfast which according to Tom and Mairead is the secret to keeping Kitty and Angela so sharp in their mid eighties!  Too bad it’s only found in Ireland!
                                       

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 7TH

We started out every morning with a delicious full Irish breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, Irish Brown bread, scones, coffee, tea, and much more.  There was no going away hungry from this breakfast!  John had oatmeal with a “touch of the Creature” for good measure.   The “Creature” can be any hard alcohol and his was Bailey’s Irish Crème.    

Maggie, one of the Jack Russells, had a surprise for us that morning. She gave birth to 2 puppies, an unplanned mating with a local sheep dog.   Below are pics of Maggie with her pups after they were about 4 days old.  The other pic is one of the pups when they are one day old.

                                                            

 John went out for the day to do bird photography with a local birder, Pete.  A pic below shows a very curious horse who appears very interested in John’s camera.

                                          

Mark, Donna and I went into Galway City and to Athelone to have a look around and then we headed to the County Roscommon Hunt Point to Point.  At the Point to Point we met a member of the Roscommon Hunt, Shaun, who explained how the Point to Points are run and how they are important fund raisers for the hunts. There were 6 races, we arrived late and only saw the last two races but what we saw made us quickly realize that this was rough riding.  In the fifth race, 12 horses started and only 4 finished.  We saw many falls, one jockey went to the hospital, and one horse had to be put down as it broke a front leg.   I placed a 10 euro bet on the last race on #12 a horse named Third Wish who was the favorite.  Must not have been her day as she came in near last.   
                                                         

 After the Point to Point we met up with John to celebrate Donna’s “29th” birthday.  Tom and Mairead recommended we have dinner at the Meadow Court, a lovely old hotel and restaurant about 10 minutes drive from CCH.   We had a delicious dinner and Donna celebrated her birthday with a proper Guinness with a drop of black currant.  Donna made a wish and blew out the candles with our waitress who was also celebrating her birthday.  

                                                       

 MONDAY, NOVEMBER 8TH

On Monday morning John and I went to the County Galway Hunt (nickname “The Blazers”) kennels with Tom Dempsey.  Just before we headed to the kennels, John viewed a fox in the pasture at CCH.  First fox view!  Tom showed us around and told us about the hunt’s history, kennels and hounds.  He has been Huntsman for 12 years and his father, Michael, was huntsman for many years before.  The kennels were built in 1891 and in need of some updating but are still beautiful.  The hounds and staff hunt horses are housed there.  They have 50 couple, 30 couple of dog hounds and 20 couple of bitches.  They also had puppies but don’t count them until they start hunting.  Hounds are fed flesh exclusively.  Here are a few pics from the kennels.  First pic is the dog hounds, second pic is Tom and his favorite hunt horse Banjo, and the third is a picture of the visiting masters house.

                                                       

After the kennels we headed into Loughrea about 15 minutes from CCH to do banking, email and internet.   The best exchange rate for dollars to Euros was to bring dollars and exchange at the bank.  We then headed to Galway City to do some birding at Nimmo’s Pier and along the bay.  We headed north up the Galway Bay coastline passing through quaint Gaelic fishing villages until we ran out of daylight.  We stopped in Spiddal at a pub called the An Cruiscin Lan and feasted on Fish and Chips, Peas and Guinness.  Below are pics an old wooden Galway Hooker boat, a Gray Heron and the Galway Coastline.

                                               

Donna and Mark spent the day in Connemara visiting Kylemore Abbey and Ashford Castle.  They had a nice day sight seeing but didn’t get to spend as much time as Ashford Castle as they planned as they were slowed down by road construction and a big pot hole which flattened their passenger’s side tires.  A guy with a huge sledge hammer at a local gas station straightened out their tire rims and they were good to go again.  

TUESDAY,  NOVEMBER 9TH

Tuesday was the big day. Our first hunt in Ireland and it was going to be with the infamous “Blazers”.   I was excited and nervous wondering what the hunting and jumping the stone walls would be like.  Tom told us not to worry saying it’s an old man’s hunt and using his good humor to ease our nerves.  Kitty and Angela promised to pray for us on their morning walks so that we would have good safe hunting.  For sure those two saintly ladies praying for us kept us safe. 

We followed Tom to the kennels and watched the hounds and horses being loaded into the hunt lorry.  We met the famous huntsman, Michael Dempsey, Tom’s father, as well as the Blazers whip, Jason O’Donnell.  We then followed the lorry to the pub in Lackagh, a small village about 10 minutes from the kennels.  We went to the pub for a bit of socializing before meeting Johnny Geoghegan in the parking lot.  He was providing our hirelings.  My horse was a 15 hand brown colored cob named Duhallow, John’s was a 16 hand dark chestnut mare named Durren, and Mark had a similar sized bay mare named Margo.  Johnny and his wife Joanna rode in the hunt and looked after us to make sure we got along OK.  Their wonderful horses served us well and bravely went over the stone walls. There were about 80 riders and the hunt lasted about 5 hours.   The hunt hacked past a school yard and the kids came running and screaming with excitement to get a glimpse of the horses and hounds!  I had several rides on the neck of Duhallow because I was too far forward and most of the landings were down jumps.  I continued to work on my jumping and managed not to fall although I truly was hanging on by a prayer (Thanks to Angela and Kitty!).   Donna went with Michael Dempsey on foot and she viewed a couple foxes, one came within 5 feet of her.   Mark viewed two foxes and I viewed one.  Tom said that it was a frustrating day for hunting because it was dry and warm and no scent

Here is the links to youtube where you can see the day’s hunt from John’s helmet cam.

http://www.youtube.com/user/John3028marsh#p/u/9/w_EUfrsZF7c     Blazers Part 1
http://www.youtube.com/user/John3028marsh#p/u/10/a1LdpDE    Blazers Part 2

http://www.youtube.com/user/John3028marsh#p/u/8/XvxlES8Pwv8   Blazers Part 3

After the hunt we were invited by the Dempsey’s to join them for Irish Stew.   The food was delicious and we had lots of laughs and conversation about the day’s hunt.  Here are few pics from the hunt and dinner. 

                         

WEDNESDAY,  NOVEMBER 10TH

Donna and Mark spent Wednesday down south in County Clare sight seeing including Bunratty Castle.   John and Linda went hunting with Oliver Walsh and the County Roscommon Hunt.  We met Oliver in Roscommon Town and followed him for about 15 minutes into the country side to a local farm.  We socialized in the barn and I had enough whiskey to where I thought I had courage but not too much so that I’d fall off.  Oliver brought out the hounds and our horses and we had the same mounts from Flower Hill, Ivory and Latte.  Oliver had decided to hunt the hounds on foot and it was amazing to see his enthusiasm and energy scrambling over stone walls and in and out of coverts as the hounds gave chase to several foxes!!   The hunt country was beautiful and the stone walls were big, many of which had barbed wire on top so horses had to clear the walls or risk getting caught up in wire.  There were a few that ended up in wire but no horse or rider got seriously injured.   It was an adrenaline filled hunt and I was happy to have only come off once when I landed a jump poorly by being too far forward.  The local saying was that  I “Came out the Side Door”.   After the hunt the members provided delicious hot soup and sandwiches.   It was a fun hunt albeit challenging hunt and I was really happy to have such a great horse who was very brave and very clever at avoiding the wire!   Oliver promised a good time…and he delivered!!

John had some problems with the helmet cam so he didn’t get allof the hunt on video.  Here are a few pics from the hunt (Linda and Latte Jumping, John with the Fieldmaster and Whipper In, and John and Ivory getting ready to take a stone wall) and links to youtube where you can see the hunt from John’s helmet cam.

 http://www.youtube.com/user/John3028marsh#p/u/7/o81i1e1gkRw  - Co. Roscommon Hunt

                                 

For dinner that evening we went into Rafferty’s Pub, a local pub located in Craughwell a few minutes drive from CCH.  The pub was decorated with all kinds of hunting and horse related memorabilia and pictures.  We had Fish Chowder as a starter and Fish and Chips for dinner along with Guinness.  The Fish Chowder was delicious!  There are 3 pubs in Craughwell…we were told this was the best for pub grub.  We enjoyed it!
 

THURSDAY,  NOVEMBER 11TH

We were scheduled to hunt with County Clare on Thursday but Mother Nature had other plans.  All of Ireland braved heavy rain and winds with gusts over 80 mph.   The hunt was cancelled and rescheduled for Friday.   We adjusted our plans and went sight seeing instead to the Cliffs of Moher.  We got there to find the Cliffs closed due to high wind but they let people enter the walkways at their own risk.   Donna, Mark and John braved the walkways to the Cliffs while I waited in the car.  The wind gusts rocked the car and people outside had to struggle to stand up.   No wonder the Cliffs were officially closed.  The link below shows the video of Donna and Mark struggling to walk around the Cliffs and the sea spray coming up over the cliffs. 
http://www.youtube.com/user/John3028marsh#p/u/12/tGk1GrtLMbU 
                                     

                                              

After the Cliffs we went to Ennis and had dinner at a local pub.   There was an Irish music festival called Ennis Trad that we had planned on attending but decided to head home early due to reports of road flooding in some areas.   

FRIDAY,  NOVEMBER 12TH
Friday was the rescheduled County Clare Meet.  We met Johnny Geoghegan in his yard and followed him and the horse lorry for 90 minutes to the County Clare meet in Creegh.   My horse was Bob, a big sorrel gelding and Mark and John had their same horses from the Blazers Hunt, Margo and Durren.  By the time we got mounted, the hunt had already left so we moved off quickly to catch up.  We were so rushed my horses tail wrap didn’t get removed so I rode the whole hunt with my red tail wrap!   Johnny didn’t go on this hunt so we were on our own.  There were over 80 kids on ponies and horses at this hunt with another 20-30 adult riders. The local kids got the day off of school to ride in the hunt and they were having a blast.  These kids were great riders heading bravely toward stone walls regardless of size or drop after the jump!   I was encouraged seeing the kids make it look so easy.  The hunt country was beautiful and there was clearly a set path we were taking that was lined with spectators cheering on the kids as they flew over the jumps.  About 2 hours into the hunt we stopped at a local farmers yard for food and drink.   They said that all of this food was compliments of this one local farmer. Donna met some locals and they drove her around to watch the hunt on foot.  She also viewed a fox that the rest of us did not see.   What a great time everyone had at this family oriented hunt as it was clear that there was lots of local participation.    What a great way to introduce kids to the fun sport of hunting. 

Here are the links to youtube where you can see the hunt video from John’s helmet cam.  Lots of jumping and kids having fun hunting.

http://www.youtube.com/user/John3028marsh#p/u/6/Yav_NDbNln0 - Part 1

http://www.youtube.com/user/John3028marsh#p/u/5/HfcGFM9l_nU  - Part 2

http://www.youtube.com/user/John3028marsh#p/u/4/WJrR4I_9x14  - Part 3
http://www.youtube.com/user/John3028marsh#p/u/3/li_Mo9qF_RY - Part 4

Here are a few pics from the County Clare Hunt.

                 

When the hunt ended we had a surprise waiting for us.  On the passenger’s side, we had one rear flat tire and a low tire in the front.  On the way to the hunt we hit a fairly large rock that apparently bent our rims.  Since Johnny was waiting for us to return with the horses, he went ahead and changed the tire on our car.  That was sure nice of him!  We quickly found a gas station to get our tires functional with a big hammer bang to the rims and we were on our way back to Craig House.   Back at Craig House we had a delicious dinner waiting for us as Mairead had made Stroganoff and we supplied the wine and dessert.  

SATURDAY,  NOVEMBER 13TH

On Saturday John and Mark rode out with The Blazers for another 5 hour hunt while Donna and I went on foot with Michael Dempsey.  Tom hacked with the hounds from the kennels to the meet starting at Cawley’s pub in Craughwell.  We waited there for about 30 minutes for the hunt to go off at 11:30.  There was an animal rights protester with a megaphone who kept repeating the same phrase “There is no excuse for animal abuse”.  People didn’t pay him much attention to him as he apparently lives in Craughwell and frequently comes out to “shout” at the start of the hunt.   No violence…just a lot of noise!   Donna walked over and had a chat with him and discussed her point of view about hunting and pest control.  Apparently the protester confessed to Donna that he kills mice in his house which Donna politely linked to the same thing as controlling foxes in pastureland.   While all this was going on, the hounds waited obediently while folks had stirrup cups and readied themselves for the days hunt.    They got hirelings from Johnny again.  John’s horse was a tall grey gelding named Hind and Mark had a bay cob named Bob.   There was light rain on and off throughout the day.  Hunting was good with several fast runs and wonderful music as the hounds were hot on the scent.  Donna and I saw the hounds take one fox to ground and another scampered past us down the road headed away.    John came off about midway through the hunt when his horse veered in mid-air to avoid a fallen rider laying at the base of the jump. He was told by JoAnna, Johnny’s wife, that he had a “proper fall” which meant it wasn’t his fault.  After the hunt was over we went into the pub for some “craic” and a few wee pints.   It was a great ending to a wonderful week of hunting in Ireland.         

Here are the links to youtube video where you can see the hunt from John’s helmet cam.

http://www.youtube.com/user/John3028marsh#p/u/2/aELKVdU4VmM  - Part 1

http://www.youtube.com/user/John3028marsh#p/u/1/XmHqfEkZAoM  - Part 2

http://www.youtube.com/user/John3028marsh#p/u/0/PaZsN2XiqMk  - Part 3

         

That evening we went to Moran’s Oyster Cottage in Kilcolgan for dinner which was about a 20 minute drive from Craig House.  We were joined by Kate who is a member of the Blazers hunt.  She came to Ireland about 30 years ago hunting, got married, and has been here ever since.  It was fun to hear her stories over dinner and to hear about Lady Molly and all the other Ireland hunting legends.   

SUNDAY,  NOVEMBER 14TH

Sunday we had an 11:00 AM flight out of Shannon back home to JFK and we had plans to leave CCH around 8:00 AM.  Mark and Donna’s car would not start so Mairead came to the rescue by going to the kennels and getting jumper cables.  Other than the dead battery excitement, our return home was uneventful.  

We had a wonderful trip and we’re dreaming about when we can return again!   Craig County House and the Dempsey’s were the highlight of our trip.  The hospitality they extended during our stay was unforgettable.  We arrived as strangers and left as friends.  We hope to return.  

As we were driving back to the Shannon Airport, a double rainbow lit up the sky and reminded us to return for another chance to find our pot of gold!