IN this most unusual of hunting seasons, we again crossed the Shannon to revisit the Co Clare Hunt from their meet at their kennels on the Shannon Estuary. For us, this is familiar territory as we had been there for the hunt club’s puppy show before hunting and I carry many happy memories of hunting from the same meet. I have probably had more enjoyable days, both on foot and mounted, with the Co Clare’s than I have had anywhere else in my hunting life.
It’s been a most extraordinary hunting year between coronavirus and insurance issues. Notably the Co Clares have risen to the challenge and has never missed a day while sadly many of the leading packs have spent the season hand-wringing and have never got going at all. Nothing can ever be achieved from too much legal advice!
The Co Clares run a great show with three very successful point-to-points, numerous social events and with a ‘can do’ attitude, they face the future with confidence.
It was another gala Clare day and as we arrived, those of a less sociable nature were already tacking up tightening girths, while some were still getting themselves sorted out at The Local Inn run by Derek and Helen O’Connor.
Aoibhinn Bannon jumps the wall with style while out with the Co Clare Foxhounds \ Catherine Power
Meanwhile, hounds and hunt staff were waiting patiently in the smoking marquee with huntsman Paddy Considine, his partner Aoibheann Bannon and the two amateur whippers-in, Paul Kilkenny and young David Frost, son of hunt chairman and master, Kieran.
Paul and Paddy Considine are certainly no strangers, both being from Spancil Hill and Paul was Paddy’s whipper-in when he hunted the East Clare Harriers. Paddy then departed his native county going on to turn hounds to Ryan Carvill in West Tyrone for a season or two before returning to take up office with the county pack. The Considines are a great hunting family and on the day, his two brothers Tommy and Dermot were also out in force.
Americans enjoying a visit to the Co Clare Foxhounds included Mike Handler, Fred Soward, Rhys Moore, Lara LeBrun, Bruce Colley and Teresa Colley \ Catherine Power
Almost the first people we met were a group of visiting Americans from the Golden Bridge Hunt in New York State, led by their master Bruce Colley MFH. The group were billeted with Jim and Kate Nicholson at their Lismacue House, one of the great stately homes of the fashionable South Riding of Tipperary. The Nicolsons are a great hunting family and Kate is also noted for her cuisine so there is no doubt but that their American guests were well victualled and prepared in every other way for what challenges lay ahead of them in Co Clare.
Every meet needs a good meet manager to liaise with farmers and landowners and other stakeholders whose co-operation is essential for a good day’s hunting and there are none more hard working and efficient than Kevin Coffee. Out on the day on his good grey, Kevin also fills the role of hunt vice chairman of the club.
Darragh Hassett and Dermot Considine, two great supporters of the Co Clare Foxhounds, enjoying a day out with the hunt club \ Catherine Power
Field-masters for the day were the veteran Jamesy Arthur and leading Clare solicitor Daragh Hassett whose family are steeped in the Clare Hunt. I could see our huntsman glancing at his watch and the very moment he got the nod from Kieran, he was off.
With 23 and a half couple (the biggest pack I have ever seen), they hacked on down the Labasheeda Road to their first draw at Shelig Hill,overlooking the estuary with Deer and Coney Islands almost within arm’s reach. These are very substantial islands, running to a couple of hundred acres each, are farmed with the aid of barges to bring stock over and back.
Now in his third season with the county pack, Paddy has an ambitious breeding program in place and expects to have a mostly home-bred pack next season.
With Shannon Airport clearly visible in the distance, hounds were mad keen and they had barely touched down when they spoke and hunted up and down the length of the well-furzed hill but Renard was determined to remain. Eventually, he found a welcoming refuge under a disused quarry and was left.
However while all this was going on to the accompaniment of the Co Clare orchestra, it gave an opportunity to catch up with old hunting companions such as David Jones visiting from the nearby East Clare, as always beautifully turned out. Former chairman Derick Burke on his good grey was there with his wife Pauline, both ‘lifers’ with the hunt, were out on the day as was Des Ryan, the hard-working hunt secretary.
Two stalwarts of the hunt were on the missing list in Pat (Ardsolas) Hannon, now in his 70th season, with the hunt was tied up on farm duties while Brian McCarthy from Quin was nursing a broken wrist but his daughter Edwina, on her good bay, was flying the family flag. As well as hunting Edwina and her husband are successful National Hunt breeders and they bred Galvin, placed in the most recent renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, ridden by Davy Russell.
Hounds then made the short hack across the main road to draw Slattery’s whose land runs down by the estuary and is looked on as a sure find. It didn’t disappoint and Renard ran towards Clarecastle but not without incident. There are hardly any double banks worthy of the name in the whole county, but there is an absolute whopper which caused mayhem. As the field returned to view, a significant number of horses and jockeys had a colour change with more than a fair share of mud on board!
As hounds ran by the kennels, they met a really decent wall where brother and sister team Samuel and Mia Bannon from Newmarket, on their two nice greys, gave a smashing display. Likewise father and daughter, William and Emily Lynch from nearby Clarecastle, were not found wanting.
Eventually scant petered out and hounds went on to draw Quinn’s covert off the Clarecastle road. While hounds were drawing, it gave an opportunity to catch up with Mary Molony out with her husband Martin, successful bloodstock breeders. Hounds again found and their pilot ran back towards Kilrush over some smashing walls before finding a welcoming shore in a area appropriately called ‘Paradise’.
Yes, it was hunting in paradise and our huntsman blew for home to return for hospitality at The Local Inn.
We hope to return to the Banner County on Easter Sunday for their point-to-point at Quakerstown on the edge of the Burren which is always a great day out.
This completes our hunting coverage for this, the strangest of seasons, and hopefully we will return next season when all hunts are back up and running.
Co Clare Hunt
Chairman and Master: Kieran Frost
Honorary Secretary: Des Ryan
Treasurer: Edel McMahon
Huntsman: Paddy Considine
Field-Master: Jamsey Arthur, Darragh Hassett
Whippers-in: David Frost, Paul Kilkenny
Point-to-point secretary: Paul O’Neill
Meets: Thursdays 12 noon and Sundays 12.30pm
Founded in 1890, the hunt club were originally designated as harriers before assuming the dual mandate of Foxhounds and harriers in the 1980s and continuing to hunt in green. Their founding master was Major Hickman of Fenloe House, also a great racing man. Fenloe continued its racing connection under the ownership of the late Tom Costello who produced no less than five Cheltenham Gold Cup winners, including Best Mate - surely a record which will never be beaten. Jimmo Quinn later became master and huntsman before passing the baton on to Gerry Burke and Matty Green among others.