A CRITICAL question has been absent from the hunt insurance debate, namely, without the hunting market what would happen to what remains of our native breed, the Irish Draught?

It is the backbone of Irish hunter breeding, sadly abandoned by many other equestrian disciplines, and classified already as ‘endangered’ by the Department of Agriculture. Could it survive, or become extinct? If the latter, it would be a terrible indictment on this generation.

The Ballymacad hunt country fortunately produces some of the best hunters in Ireland as their country is the complete test, so the finished product will hunt in any country at home or abroad. Anybody who has hunted hounds, whipped-in or acted as field-master, knows the difference between a horse that can make country - in other words go first regardless of what faces him - and a horse that is a follower and has to get a lead.

What a line-up of quality hunters there was at the Ballymacads’ meets at Ryefield and Billis. Huntsman Kevin Donohoe of Donohoe Sport Horses produces a steady stream of horses each year that can ‘make country’. He had a truckload out ridden by Colin Hawden and others including his wife, Joanne, who was on a quality horse that they feel will make an eventer. As soon as he has done a bit more, he will be on the market.

Kevin himself rode a horse at Ryefield from Frisk Jones, whipper-in to the Scarteens, that he described as ‘a serious hunter’. On the second day at Billis, Kevin was on a horse produced by Ellen Coyle who whipped-in to the late Johnny Vance in Fermanagh that Kevin described as a ‘machine’. Kevin and Joanne’s daughter, Aoibhinn, is a brave rider and was having a great time on her sturdy cob.

As Kevin commented: “Once you get the mileage up on them, they are ready to go”, mainly to his clients in the UK, USA and Holland. Kells international show jumping rider Alexander Butler, home from his success on the European circuit, was on a another nice type, owned by Robert Daly, while Aaron Farrell, who whipped-in to the Galway Blazers, was on a smashing five-year-old 17hh hunter broken by the late Johnny Vance, and he is for sale.

Ciara O’Brien, who works in the hunt kennels, rode whipper-in Maurice Quinn’s second horse, while Maurice was on a stunning new grey pure Irish Draught hunter (by Gentle Diamond). He bought him from Kevin Donohoe and the horse was broken by Glenn Farrell Walker of GFW Sporthorses in Kells.

Fellow whipper-in, Bobby Kellett, was on a keen coloured cob that looked as if he could get you out of any trappy place in the hunting field. Jamie O’Rourke, whose father Paul hunted the Fingal Harriers and his grandfather ‘Speedy’ whipped-in to the Meath Foxhounds, was on his home-produced three-year-old by Huntingfield Sunny C, best described as a Modern Irish Draught with an athletic frame.

Thomas Carrigy was riding a Connemara-Irish Draught cross, standing over 16hh with lovely quality and a kind head. Field-master Paul Keogan was on another quality four-year-old, one of the many that he and his son Alan, who deputises as huntsman when needed, produce each year.

Masters and hunt staff

Joint masters Martin Farrell, Michael Bevan and Michael Cosgrove were out hunting, while Garry O’Neill was on business. Former masters, Thosh Kellett and Jim Stevenson, were also following. Huntsman Kevin Donohoe, together with whippers-in Maurice Quinn and Bobby Kellett, make a top-class team.

At Ryefield, Alexander Butler and Aaron Farrell were helping out but joint field-master Ken Farrrelly was temporarily out with a shoulder injury. The huntsman describes Rachel Gilsenan, their honorary secretary, as ‘the backbone of the hunt’, due to her efficiency and amazing energy.


Edel Tuite was out hunting and had to leave baby son Tom at home. On horseback were Shane McCann and his son Ethan, Mary Jane Roberts, also Colette Keogh, former master of the Ballymacads, David Wiggins who farms nearby, Sara McDonnell, Susan O’Neill, John Daly, Ambrose Galligan, Cathryn Gibney, Liz Brogan, Caoimhe Reilly, Aoibhin Clarke, Eoin Sheridan, Padraic Lynch, Cian Clarke, Ciara Reilly, Eliza Lapsley and Anne Marie Galligan. Joint master Martin Farrell’s children, Katelynn and Aaron, were also hunting as was Martin Gilroy from Louth.

The meet clean-up was done by local farmer John Clarke with Brendan Tully and John Bonham, whose son Richard hunts the family’s Lakeland Beagles.

Following also were former National Hunt jockey Barry Reynolds, Ivan Rennix and Declan Mahon, whose grandnephew Jamie loves following the hunt. He wrote to Santa Claus with a request for two ferretts, one terrier and a lurcher. I wonder if Santa delivered!

Great hound work

To organise this meet, Kevin Donohoe and Maurice Quinn had to visit over 50 farmers, which is a huge workload before the meet and a lesson to all followers for the need to be careful crossing country and not increase their workload.

The meet at Billis Bridge was the day to be out to witness real hound work and hunting at its best with the huntsman getting a perfect result in the first covert in Lisgrey Bog. Finding immediately, a nice slow hunt, with total accuracy on the line, ensued for about 40 minutes which allowed the hound enthusiasts to see what real hunting is all about.

It was difficult country for the followers as one whipper-in and two masters (who shall be nameless) went beagling as well as a number of followers. But they were undaunted as the huntsman went on to try Lynch’s Furze where this fox ran parallel to the road towards Lisgrey Bog. He jinked left by Denning’s over Brian Reilly’s and towards Johnson’s Covert for another 40 minutes which riders described as ‘brilliant jumping’ over extremely challenging country. Again there was a roll call of fallers.

Having picked themselves up, they were ready again when hounds had yet another fox on the run from Victor Foster’s for a lovely circular hunt. This clever fox looked an expert on evading tactics, but the hunt staff just chose to enjoy this wily customer evading hounds, watching from the hill for a grandstand view of perfect hound work on a clever fox who sensibly sought cover underground.

Two and half couple of pups in particular really demonstrated their fox sense. It confirmed the huntsman’s talent for hound breeding as they were by Louth Logan and Ballymacad Lawyer.

As they had enough done by the evening and the fallers were still catching their horses, the huntsman blew for home after a day’s hunting to be remembered.

The young horses came back with a clean sheet, building confidence and furthering their education. It is reassuring for the future of the Traditional Irish Horse, particularly the Irish Draught, to see so many producers in Ballymacad country turning out such high-quality horses, a steady export trade, so hunting needs to continue. (See also page 77).


The hunt was formed about 1735 by the Sherbourne family and the Ballymacad Foxhounds in 1826, kennelled at Loughcrew by William Naper.


Ballymacad Foxhounds

Chairman: Ken Farrelly

Masters: Garry O’Neill, Martin Farrell, Michael Bevan and Brendan Cosgrove

Huntsman: Kevin Donohoe

Whippers-in: Bobby Kellett and Maurice Quinn

Field-masters: Paul Keogan and Ken Farrelly

Honorary secretary: Rachel Gilsenan

Honorary treasurer: Eileen Farrelly

PRO: Annieka Cadden