Blarney Hunt Club 1886-2019

by

Brian Gabriel

Blarney Hunt Club or ‘The Hunt Club’ as it was locally known, was founded and established in 1886 and lasted for 133 years until it was eventually disbanded in 2019. At this stage it would be almost impossible to write a complete history of the Blarney Hunt Club but what follows is a brief summary of the main aims and activities of the club during its existence. Hunting was a pastime for a number of young men from the Blarney area prior to 1886 but there being no club in the district, these young men would hunt with the nearest one to Blarney which was known as ‘Kerrypike and Blarney Street Hunt Club’. They walked out with their hounds, each Sunday morning, to either Kerrypike or Blarney Street, for a day’s hunting. Sometime during 1886 these Blarney lads made a decision to form their own club and so the idea of ‘The Blarney Hunt Club’ was formed. The new club’s activities were funded mainly by a weekly collection from the members who were mainly workers in the local Woollen Mills. Eventually the club’s activities, such as the purchasing of young hounds and insurance, were funded by annual membership subscriptions and an annual draw.

Among the original founding members were such hunting stalwarts as Bob Dooling, Ned Walsh, John Coleman, John Horgan, John Meaney and Bill Cassidy. At this time, Bob Dooling, who was the current Huntsman for the ‘Kerrypike and Blarney Street Hunt Club’, was also the first elected Huntsman of the newly formed Blarney Hunt Club. A Club-house was eventually situated in nearby Waterloo on William Cronin’s land and survived until about the mid-1950s when it was demolished. It was a red painted, corrugated iron structure with internal timber walls and floors and also a fireplace. Over the years it was also used as a practise room for the Blarney Brass Band as well as a meeting location for many other local, political and sporting organisations including Blarney Boxing Club and as a temporary dwelling house during its existence.

Generally known as Harriers, the correct name for this type of hunting dog is the Kerry Beagle which is one of the oldest of native Irish breeds and these hounds are bred primarily for hare-hunting and fox-hunting. An interesting fact is that the famous Irishman, Daniel O’Connell (the Liberator), from Derrynane near Caherdaniel, Co. Kerry, was a noted hunting man and kept a number of these Kerry Beagles on his own property. The Harrier is described as a medium-sized hound, used commonly in Ireland for hunting hares, with some packs hunting mainly foxes. It resembles an English foxhound but is smaller, though not as small as a Beagle and comes in a variety of colour patterns. It is a muscular hunting hound with large bones for stamina and strength. It is cheerful, sweet-tempered, tolerant of people and is excellent with children. It prefers life in a pack with people, dogs or both. This pack dog is good with other dogs but should be supervised with non-canine pets unless it is raised with them from puppyhood. A Harrier requires daily exercise, such as long vigorous walks or runs but should be kept on a leash or in a safe enclosed area. Without proper exercise a Harrier can become hyperactive, overweight and/or destructive. They stand about 48.5 to 53.5 cm at the shoulder and adults can weigh between 20.5 and 29.5 kg. There also appears to be a greater concentration of harrier packs in the south of the country than either foxhound or beagle packs.

Harrier pups were regularly reared by local farmers who were themselves hunting members of the club. This was a vital training aid to the young dogs to getting used to open fields and farmlands where they would eventually be hunting. The local farmers were also greatly appreciated for their general co-operation and granting of permission to hunt on their lands, all of which was done without charge to the club or its members. The good quality of the breeding of the Blarney hounds also shone through as the club had much success at the Harrier Shows around the country when Joe O’Callaghan’s ‘Hamlet’ was runner-up Champion Dog in 1968. Con Horgan’s ‘Blueboy’ being Champion Dog in 1969 and then runner-up in 1970. ‘Blueboy’ and Tom O’Connor’s ‘Harvest’ were Best Couple, also in 1970.

The 26th September is the beginning of the legal hare-hunting season and it runs until the 28th February, when it closes again by law. From a hunting point of view, hares generally have become almost non-existent locally and are now to be found mainly in more remote and mountainous areas. A sub-species of the native mountain hare is the most numerous and is hunted more than any other. The Blarney Hunt Club was strictly a ‘hunt only’ and not a ‘hunt-to kill’ organisation. To prevent over-hunting, hares would be purchased from breeders and released back into various areas. The Blarney Hunt Club, Blarney Coursing Club, Horse-hunt riders and Shooting Clubs were all subscribing towards the funding of the replacement of hares in the areas being hunted.

During the close season between the end of February and late September, the sport of Drag-hunting was carried on. This was a very popular sport especially during the middle years of the 20th century with very large crowds being attracted to the different venues where the best hounds from all the clubs would meet each Sunday. There was a huge rivalry between the neighbouring clubs and it is a particularly difficult and gruelling test for the hounds. Originally a large piece of rotting horse-flesh was dragged over the proposed course but nowadays an aniseed-scented trail is laid by several ‘Dragsmen’ over a seven- to-ten-mile course about twenty minutes before the release of the hounds which are all released en masse when the starter gives the ‘go’ signal. Small cash prizes were sometimes awarded and the first hound over the last fence on the course was declared the winner. It was also a busy day for bookmakers who arrived whenever big meets took place between the neighbouring clubs.

A hugely successful open Drag-hunt was held annually at Blarney, usually in the month of May, which was extremely well patronised. The Bradley Perpetual Cup, a much sought-after trophy, and other prizes were offered for such competitions

The Drag-hunting hounds were the hunting hounds which were used during the open season. In Cumbria, North-West England, drag-hunting or trail-hunting is also extremely popular and their trail hounds are bred specifically for racing and speed and are much faster than the Kerry Beagles. During the 1970’s many of these hounds were introduced to Ireland by the clubs with the result that today, all the Drag-hunting hounds are of English origin. In spite of their success, many older club-members bemoan the introduction of the English hound. The Blarney Club ceased drag-hunting entirely in 1984, concentrating on hare hunting only.

The Blarney Hunt Club has had many champion Drag-hunting hounds down the years. To mention a few; ‘Midleton’ kept by the late John T. and Jerha Buckley, was once the fastest hound in Ireland winning a huge number of cups as well as hundreds of pounds in prize money. Some years later, ‘Kerryman’ kept by the late Joe Nagle was another superb hound. They were both outstanding champions. Other hounds of note were; ‘Statesman’ kept by the late John Horgan, ‘Rommel’ kept by Bob Dooling, ‘Melody’ kept by Dermot Ryan, ‘Towler’ kept by Denis Harrington. The Club also had a very consistent Drag-hunter in ‘Richmond’ kept by Mr. Dan McCarthy, who won quite a few of hunts in his time.

The mid-1970’s was an extremely successful time for the Blarney club and the popularity of the sport reached its greatest heights. Photographs and film taken of the outings emphasise the large percentage of youths and young men who followed the hounds each Sunday. The Club was governed by a President, Chairman, Secretary, Asst. Secretary, Treasurer and a committee of ten members. Over seventy members were on its books and Master Huntsman Frank Lynch with his brother, Kenneth as Assistant Huntsman, would have up to thirty-six hounds in the pack hunting regularly every Sunday and was responsible for directing the hounds, the whips and the followers by use of a hunting horn. The Huntsmen were assisted by ‘Whips’ whose main job was to keep control of the pack and prevent hounds from straying in the hunting field. A few of the notable whips of the time were the brothers Arthur and Sean Lynch, John Murphy, Michael O’Shea, Ted Dilworth and Denis Lynch.

Unfortunately, over the latter years, interest in hunting, especially among the younger people, fell off and membership of the Blarney Hunt Club dropped to the extent that the club had almost become extinct with only a few stalwart members remaining. Some of the main causes for the collapse of the club were a lack of new members, loss of traditional hunting territory to encroaching infrastructure and on-going urbanisation of the country-side. The Blarney Hunt Club was eventually dissolved in October 2019 and the remaining three members decided to throw in their lot once again with the Kerrypike Club, from whence it had all begun in 1886.

Contact: Mr. Brian Gabriel Email: wbriangabriel@gmail.com Tel: 021 4381349 Mob: 087-2153216