THE 1st of March is the first day of the season of spring and also symbolises a time of new beginnings. And this day was so apt for Kildare Foxhounds huntsman Peter Cahill who retired from hunting hounds at their meet at The Bush Bar in Cut Bush, near the Curragh.

The 10 survivors from a field of nearly 80 at the finish of the final cracking hunt of the day are now known as ‘The Cut Bush 10’, having left the rest of the followers either retired or stranded in ditches and drains over the Kildare countryside. They no doubt will be immortalised in song and verse in hunting folklore! But more of that later.

Having hunted both the Carlow Farmers Foxhounds and the Kilkenny Foxhounds and after five years hunting the Kildare Foxhounds, Peter has decided to retire from hunting hounds much to the regret of the masters and followers of the Kildare Hunt, and his wider circle of friends who admired his skills with hounds in the hunting field.

His popularity was evident from the huge turnout of fellow huntsmen and women who travelled from all corners of Ireland to join him on his last day. It was a colourful outing with hunt staff friends wearing their hunt livery, green coats of the harrier packs and the red and maroon colours of the foxhound packs.

Peter has always been known as a hard worker, a talented horseman, exceptional with hounds and popular with the followers. But so many people on the day told me that probably Peter’s main strength is his respect for the countryside and his popularity with the farming community. He was often seen on his own in all weathers on days following a hunt, and even though it was fenced on the day, he wanted to ensure that every farmer was satisfied, and especially that it was done in such a way that the hunt would be welcome back again.

Hunting hounds

Peter’s interest in hounds was nurtured early as his father, Peter, was huntsman of the famous North Cork City pack, the Fairhill Harriers founded in 1893, and immortalised in Jimmy Crowley’s ballad ‘The Boys of Fairhill’. He also followed the Coolnakilla Harriers and the Bride Valley Mink Hounds around Rathcormack, Fermoy and Barthlemy in Cork.

He hunted with the County Limerick Harriers when his friend Aongus McNamara was huntsman. He also stepped in for one day and hunted the pack when Aongus was laid up in 2003.

Carlow Farmers Foxhounds

I have been fortunate to have reported on each of the packs Peter has hunted during his career. His first pack was the Carlow Farmers in 2006, and I have great memories of him hunting from the village of Borris, and Lisnavagh House. The day in Borris stands out, as when it came to the evening, he said he would never go home until dark. True to his word, horses and hounds had to be escorted back to Borris with car lights pointing the way back to the meet!

Kilkenny Foxhounds

Peter then took on the Kilkenny Foxhounds and his talent for hound breeding came into play as he preserved many of the old lines from the McCalmont days, and multiple successes on the flags. The lawn meet at Mount Juliet was always special as they hunted down the banks of the River Nore.

Kildare Foxhounds

Then the call came from the Kildare Foxhounds and again Peter produced a pack worthy of the status of the hunt. The meets at Punchestown and Suncroft Village near the Curragh were always enjoyable.

Hound Shows

Peter enjoyed success at the National Hound Show at Stradbally and the Kildare Puppy Show which attracted a large following. I recall one puppy show which was held on front of the stands on the racecourse with Roddy Bailey and Liam McAlinden, huntsman of the East Galway Foxhounds, another talented huntsman who has also retired from hunting hounds judging. The backdrop was special also, in full view of Punchestown Race Course.

Berney Brothers’ Huntsman’s Challenge

Hunt staff do not often get the opportunity of riding over the famous Punchestown Racecourse and particularly over Ruby’s Double. But this event draws the spectators and there have been some memorable races and Peter has ridden in all of the them.

The Kildare Hunter Performance Show, another popular event, is listed for Sunday, March 27th.

Peter’s final meet

Cahill’s final meet as huntsman of the Kildare Foxhounds was at Cut Bush where there was a large turnout on horseback including the masters Mary Healy, Paul Doyle, Gavin Nangle, Richard Sutton, Peter’s wife Elaine, other members of his family and road followers to wish him well.

Numerous visitor waivers were being processed by that amiable gentleman and honorary secretary John Dillon. The bright sunshine did not help scent but hounds found a fox quickly in Andrew Corrigan’s that ran to the top of hill overlooking Kilcullen and to ground. A brace in both Ken Braithwaite’s and another brace in Ross Thompson’s Covert produced good runs with hounds marking all to ground.

Another customer was game for a run on trainer Willie Mullins’s out-farm and they marked him also after about a mile of a run. The big double out of Martinstown, also described as a canal, caused havoc with plenty of empty saddles as a small group got away on a smashing 40-minute five-mile point run over the best of challenging country, and hounds eventually marked this game fox to ground at Ballyshannon Crossroads on the Kilcullen to Athy road.

The 10 survivors, as the huntsman blew to ground, are now known as ‘The Cut Bush 10’. They were huntsman Peter Cahill and his whippers-in Eoghan McCabe, and Mark Murtagh, Kildare master Paul Doyle, Billy Flood (Kildare Foxhounds), Jodie Skelton (Carlow Farmers Foxhounds), Stevie Cottrell (Kilkenny Foxhounds), Michael Condon (Wexford Foxhounds), Liam Russell (Kilworth and Araglen Harriers), and Denis Gilmartin (North Tipperary Foxhounds).

Peter has left a lasting mark on the Irish hunting landscape, but is too good a talent to lose to hunting. It would be nice to think that he will take on another pack of hounds in the near future.

Former County Limerick Harriers huntsman Aongus McNamara, whose dairy herd are in the middle of calving, and despite being one of his busiest times of the year, would not miss the important day. Speaking at the meet, Aongus echoed the sentiments of all present at Peter’s retirement in The Bush Bar, pointing out that Peter has so much more to give to hunting saying, ‘It was like being at a funeral, while the’ main man’ was still alive’!

Peter’s final official engagement for the Kildare’s will be leading in the winners at the Punchestown Racing Festival with his whipper-in Eoghan McCabe this coming April. Padhraic Moynihan, who spent his time in hunt service with a number of packs in Ireland and the UK, and latterly with the South Union in Cork, will replace Peter on May 1st.

We all wish Peter, Elaine, and their son Adam every happiness in the future.