Co Clare Hunt
Chairman/Master: Kieran Frost
Hon. 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 at noon and Sundays at 12.30pm
Founded in 1890, this pack was 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, who was also a great racing man. Fenloe continued its racing connection under the ownership of the late Tom Costello who produced five Gold Cup winners - including Best Mate - surely a record which will never be beaten. Jimmy Quinn later became master and huntsman before passing over to Gerry Burke and Matty Green among others.
REPORTS of the imminent demise of hunting, like that of Mark Twain, have been greatly exaggerated, judging by our last two days with the Co Clare Hunt. The general woes associated with hunt insurance have passed Co Clare by and they assure me they are fully covered for the season with two point-to-points planned.
We just had two cracking days in the Banner with the county pack who are registered both as foxhounds and harriers. On St Stephen’s day – shaking off the excesses of Christmas – we ventured deep into the heart of West Clare and the edge of the Burren to the small town of Corofin.
Corofin looked as if it was sleeping off the effects of the Christmas festivities but this didn’t deter the 40 or so gallant horsemen of the Co Clare Hunt who turned up for a smashing day’s hunting. Corofin is a land of lakes and castles, all brimming with history, and they hunted round Ballynaporty Castle before drawing on towards Castle Inchaquin and its adjacent lake. We were fortunate to have local area manager Val O’Sullivan as our local guide who ensured we were up with the action all day.
However, all this was just an appetiser for their new year’s meet in festive Bunratty just a few days later. It is a meet I have rarely missed over many years and look on it as the high point of the new year and this year was up there with the best with were over 70 eager horsemen and horsewomen out and enough cars to form a tailback on the M50 along with countless foot followers.
As usual, it all kicks off at Noel Wallace’s ever sporting Bunratty Manor Hotel, just down the road from the Castle. Noel, the patron, has missed the last couple of Bunratty meets due to ill health but happily was very much in attendance, flanked by his staff with the inimitable Aidan O’Connell acting as his maitre’d for the day. Due to Covid, all hospitality had to take place outdoors but as always, Noel ensured everyone was well victualled before venturing for the day over walls of Clare.
Former hunt chairman, John Horan, and treasurer Michael McInenry, were both there to join in the festive cheer. Sadly, Brian McCarthy was reported missing in action as he is nursing a broken wrist from a horse related injury over Christmas.
Old friends and new
It was not the occasion for a prompt move-off and it gave us the opportunity to catch up with many old hunting friends, like Fr Joe Hourigan who has only recently surrendered his jumping licence and is uncle to hunt chairman and master Kieran Frost and his brother Pat, both out and properly mounted.
The Frosts live and farm in Firgrove where the Clare hunt were kennelled back in the day. The family tradition continues with son David, an electrician and leading Clare hurler, acting as whipper-in. Their cousins, John and Trish Hourigan, had made the trip from Co Limerick with their daughter Hazel who was riding and stayed out all day.
John has only recently joined the ranks of MFHs as he is now one of the Scarteen joint-masters. Field-masters for the day in John Peel green were the veteran Jamsey Arthur with leading solicitor Darragh Hassett, acting as his assistant in case the riot act had to be read.
It made a festive scene as huntsman Paddy Considine, who hails from Spancil Hill, with his whippers-in David Frost and Paul Kilkenny, formerly whipper-in to East Clare, gathered in front of the hotel for a new year’s photo and a stirrup cup. Sadly, his brother Tommy was confined to his box due to the dreaded Covid.
He was hunting 18 and a half couple, many whom he has bred from South Tyrone outcrosses. Apart from his whips, he is supported in the field by his partner Aoibhinn Bannon from Sixmilebridge, riding a very smart thoroughbred-cross looking the part and featuring over knee pull-ups Frankie Dettori style.
There were at least two visiting masters, Pat Hayes from Duhallow and Sean O’Donovan from Crecora, who was out with his daughter Megan, and making up the Limerick Harrier team was whipper-in Gerry Murphy with his son Jack. Visiting from the Co Laois was Maralyn White who was taking on a complete change of country for the day.
Dashing over ancient ground
Shortly after mid-day, our huntsman and hounds led the field down past Bunratty Castle and popped into land of the old Bunratty House where hounds found and after a nice dash was marked to ground near Bunratty Castle and given best.
Hounds then crossed the road and drew on by the banks of the Ralty river before emerging at Mark McDonagh’s whose family own and trains the very useful Fly de Megaudais. They drew on through Noel Quinn’s where there was some really decent jumping. Noel, who has two brothers training racehorses, Denis and Joe, was on hand to see the hunt through. Here they met some really decent walls and giving a great display was veteran on more than 70 seasons on his on-going grey was Pat ‘Ardsolous’ Hannon from Quinn, of whom it is said, has never missed a Bunratty meet in more than seven decades.
It was around here that Kieran Frost had to take up beagling for a field or two as he parted company from his mount but happily, no such fate overtook his brother Pat, the only Frost to have a clear round all day.
Leaving Donnybrook, it was South Tyrone Pluto who had a fine dog fox afoot, and he took them over some good stiff walls near Owen Keegan Transport before setting his mask for Mikey Jones’ farm at Ballyconeen. Mikey, a former hunt chairman, had been riding but retired to be there to see hounds through.
They ran on by the birch wood at the back of Dairygold and into Kieran Frost’s farm which, with Mikey Jones’ farm, forms a huge block of hunting paradise. Here they were treated to a feast of wall jumping as hounds ran from cover to cover over some of the best walls in Clare.
All good things come to an end and with light fading, not much short of 5pm, they marked to ground and our huntsman blew for home. There was some good Clare hospitality awaiting all, both far and near, to set them up for the rigours of the year ahead.
A happy hunting new year to all.