CHRISTMAS hunting has a different buzz about it; it is the season to be merry and the hunting fields come alive. The Suir Vale’s St Stephen’s Day meet is Emma Ryan’s favourite hunt of the year. The busy huntswoman has an unbelievable work ethic and loves all her jobs. She is a woman of many talents. As well as hunting the hounds and looking after the kennels for the Suir Vale Harriers in Tipperary, she milks a herd of 136 cows twice daily, works as an AI technician and has two smalls boys at home aged four and one.

How does she do it all? “I love hardship, and that’s what it is,” Emma answers with a laugh. As we speak, it is a particularly busy time of year for Emma with the hunting season in full flow and milking still ongoing. She outlines her typical day. “I get up in the morning at around 6.30am and go over to milk my cows in Clonoulty, about 10 minutes from home. I finish around 8.30am, go home and drop the kids to crèche unless my partner does that, and then down to kennels for around 9am.”

The kennels are based at Rossmult, Drombane, just three miles from Emma’s home. “I wash them out, walk out my hounds, feed them – they are only fed every second day because they are on flesh. We have a knackery here as well and I do that too.

“I will be finished in the kennels around two or three o’clock. I go back up home then and do the three horses, ride out. Then it is back milking about at 4.30pm or 5pm and I’d hope to be finished up around 7.30pm, unless something goes wrong on me!”

Emma took over hunting the hounds from her partner and master of the hunt, Séamus O’Dwyer, five years ago. She absolutely loves it. When her two children – Tadgh (4) and James (1) – were born, there was no such thing as maternity leave. “Tadgh was born on December 15th and I hunted the hounds on a horseback on New Year’s Day. We had a great day, it is a great job in fairness,” the hardworking multitasker said. With the widely publicised insurance battle hunts are facing, the Suir Vales are now on foot until they get insurance. “Last Sunday was our last meet on horse, but we are going to continue the card on foot.”

Christmas meets

The hunt is hopeful for an insurance solution before Christmas, but if not, the annual St Stephen’s Day meet will go ahead even if it has to be on foot.

“We have a big meet in Upperchurch, near Thurles. We meet in Kinnanes Pub and a lot of people from the village come out. We will be hunting either way. It is a brilliant meet, my favourite in the year, I love it. Then we have a kids’ meet two days after; a lawn meet in Killahara which is always a great day, we get a good crowd. Then we hunt on New Year’s Day in Clonmore. It is a busy time of the year.”

So what is Christmas Day like in the kennels in preparation? “I will go down there in the morning, do a quick wash out and let the hounds out in the field for a run around. I will see if there are any lame and decide what to take the following day. I would only be down there for about an hour on Christmas Day, I would have their beds done on Christmas Eve. And the milking will dry up in mid-December, so it’s not too bad.”

Puppy training

After Christmas, attention turns to training the puppies for next season. “I have 12 and a half puppies on the ground. I will be starting to couple them up and get them out of the road ready for next year. They are all back in the kennels now. We have a big yard at the back and I have it spilt in half; with six and a half in one section and six and a half in the other. “The training is hard work getting them going. I am in the kennels on my own but I have great help off a girl in Thurles whenever I need it.”

The breeding of the Suir Vale hounds are all Old English Foxhounds with a lot of Limerick blood and often the back breeding features Duhallow. Emma credits the late Ger Withers of the Duhallow Hunt as being a great help to her with her mating plans.

“The lads are brilliant from other packs, they are most accommodating – Jim Kenny, Niall Dunne, Fergus Stokes, Jamie Byrne who is gone in for Ger Withers... I could ring up any of them and call out her breeding and they will always pick a good dog. Having that good relationship with other packs is very important.”

As the conversation ends, Emma is getting ready for a meet on foot, and is looking forward to the festivities ahead.