HOUNDS have been meeting at Knocklong on the first Tuesday in November, it is said, since the days of Patrick Sarsfield and the Flight of the Earls - every one of them special but none more so than last Tuesday.
Between Covid-19 and insurance woes, hounds hadn’t seen a horse since 2020 and to add to all that, we have a new enthusiastic huntsman in Hughie Ryan. While Hughie might be a newcomer to the role of huntsman, he certainly is no newcomer to Scarteen having hunted with them since he was in short trousers.
He is one of the famed Ryan family from Oola, everyone of them a horseman. He was supported on the day by most of his family; his brother Michael, the Olympian, turning hounds to him, his other brother Pat also well mounted with their father Pat on the ground as was his sister Paula, one of Scarteen’s best lady riders.
The kennels were a hive of activity from an early hour. Sir Roy Walker and Nadaline, amateur kennel huntsmen, were early arrivals to get the chosen 12 and a half couple ready for the day. Tradition demanded that hounds would be blessed and with the local clergy now being hard pressed and thin on the ground, an evangelical slot was found shortly before 10am; the safety of the hounds, the landowners and the riders being duly commended to the Lord.
The saddling bell was sounded at 10.30am sharp and huntsman Hughie, looking resplendent in his new livery, with his brother Michael and the inimitable Frisk Jones, both beautifully mounted, with a short note on the horn, hounds were enlarged and the 2022 season could truly be declared open!
Frisk had his whole family mounted - Mia, Tommy, Lily, and Hannah - all turned out to a picture.
Since hounds hunted last, Scarteen has seen many changes. For starters, the hunt have acquired no less than four new Joint-masters to join Senior Master Chris Ryan. Though sadly on foot, he was very much hands for all last minute preparations. However his cousin Oliver, next in line on his grey, was very much to the fore. Oliver, one of the finest legal brains in Munster, has put countless hours and even weeks into honing the new insurance policy to a point where it can withstand even the most searching scrutiny.
The rest of the masters line-up, John Hourigan (also chairman), Jake Murphy, Mairead English and the recently married Bill Hanly were all on hand and made the short hack down to the that famed hostelry in Knocklong, known simply as “The Hill”. These masters are all local hunting members who stepped up to the plate in aid of the their hunt when the financial going got sticky.
There to greet them and making the line-up of riding masters was Tipperary international show jumping rider Shane Breen just over from the Horse of the Year (HOYS) show where he was crowned the JCB leading showjumper of the year with Cuick Star Kervac.
Earlier in the year, Shane won that blue riband of show jumping, the Hickstead Derby, on the 16-year-old stallion Can Ya Makin. This is Breen country and his uncle James from Emly, one the great men of his time across country, and his father John, still hunting at little short of 80, were both there to welcome the prodigal son.
The younger generation were well represented; Sophia McGrath was out to keep her eye on her Dad, the gallant Comdt Martin who is stationed at The Curragh but born and bred in Emly. It was also great to see young Mark Taylor, son of our former and much missed whipper-in Joe Taylor RIP, out and going well.
After a short address from chairman and master John Hourigan, Hughie took hounds to the first draw at the creamery farm, now mostly planted and near clear-fell. What started as an uncertain whimper soon became a crescendo as hounds spoke and a good half an hour ensued of glorious woodland hunting with the occasional ‘tally-ho’ from hunt staff as Reynard was spotted fleetingly crossing the rides and roadways.
This gave both hounds and followers a chance to settle their nerves for what surely lay ahead. Eventually Reynard had enough and disappeared down a convenient and welcoming shore. Hounds hacked out through Dominic Ryan’s farm to cross into Roy Walker’s stubble and drew one of the huge banks that is a fox covert in itself.
Hounds had barley crossed over into John Molony’s farm when the field-master spotted Reynard slipping away. Such was the enthusiasm of the field that it took all the authority field-master Val O’Connell could muster to keep the 50 dashing riders under some kind of control. I’m sure on several occasions he would have loved to refer them to the Stewards’ Room, so often chaired by John Molony but unfortunately such sanction was not at his disposal as they hunted on through John’s farm at the bottom of Knocklong Hill.
Hounds hunted right over the pinnacle with Knocklong Castle acting as a silent sentinel and foot followers on the road were treated to a rare spectacle of the fox, the hounds, and the first flight all streaming down the hillside towards the dog track.
As they swung right-handed, a serious gate with a forbidding lock blocked their passage. A key was on hand but where? While key searching went on, Shane, on a smashing chesnut by Pacino, saw his stride and was gone leaving his companions dumbstruck until eventually the key was found.
Pride cometh before a fall however. They only had a few more fields with jumping at puissance level when Shane’s horse misjudged a big bank and dropped the master. They hunted on through Raleigh’s but the pace couldn’t last and it didn’t. Reynard knew exactly where he was going and a deep shore provided him with sanctuary just short of Garryspillane.
The field looked somewhat bedraggled as they regrouped back at Knocklong Church where Hughie was met by Camila Kerr with a welcome change of horses. Scarteen was the next draw and while it is normally looked on as a sure find, on this occasion there was no resident Reynard.
For all that, the jumping was terrific and no less than John Gleeson’s horse was seen to reverently genuflect as he attempted to get to the top of some of those monumental banks. Hounds drew on by the kennels where those left on the subs bench for the day made their disappointment known to all.
They jumped into Sonya Purcell’s, who was absent on IMFHA business. Sonya has a smashing Coolmore-style post and rails dividing her paddocks and the temptation proved too much for John Gleeson, Michael Condon and Shane who took it on up-sides. Unhappily one had four faults but we would have needed the TMO to see who should have got the red card!
Fantastic day out
With a much reduced field, they drew on through John Taylor’s farm where the jumping is fantastic. Hounds found and were ‘holla-ed’ away by Michael Condon who was hunting with Shane along with Brian Cassidy and Kate Brooks with Mary Kehoe MFH as non-riding captain. A smashing hunt ensued with the crack riders jousting with each other, all attempting to take their own line - only for the brave.
Hounds hunted almost to Emly Cathedral before swinging back in a big left-handed circle before being marked to ground in Knockcarron Quarry. Being almost dusk, huntsman Hughie blew for home.
Like the troops returning from Balaclava, he brought a delighted but bedraggled field back to box up at Scarteen. If the season goes on like this, they are going to need plenty of horsepower.
THE earliest records of the Scarteen black and tan hounds and the Ryan family goes back to 1640 shortly after the Flight of the Earls. Around 1820, Daniel O’Connell (The Liberator) disbanded his pack of Kerry Beagles and his hounds were sent to Scarteen to augment the Scarteen Pack. The Ryans of Scarteen were closely related to the O’Connell’s of Caherdaniel. Present master Chris Ryan, now in his 34th season, is the eighth generation of his family to have carried the horn.
Chairman - John Hourigan
Senior Master - Chris Ryan
Joint-masters - Oliver Ryan-Purcell, Bill Hanly, Jake Murphy, Mairead English, John Hourigan, Roger Dunworth
Honorary Secretary - Triona Fitzpatrick
Whippers-in - Frisk Jones and Michael Ryan
Field-master - Val O’Connell
Treasurer - Richard Stapleton