THE ancient and historic village of Holycross in south Tipperary was our venue last Sunday for a meet of the Suir Vale Harriers. The village and its ancient abbey was a Cistercian foundation before it was sacked by the forces of Henry VIII during the reformation. It remained a ruin until as recently as the 1970s when it was restored to its former glory and again became a place of pilgrimage for the faithful.

Well, last Sunday our pilgrimage was of a slightly different nature as we were there to see and enjoy a meet of the Suir Vale Harriers. Appropriately enough it was at the Abbey Tavern but unfortunately, the Tavern was not open on the day.

Despite the ancient and historic surroundings of Holycross, the Suir Vale is one of the country’s more recent hunt clubs having only achieved recognition from the Irish Masters of Harriers Association as recently as 2004. Founding master Seamus O’Dwyer is still very much to the fore but hounds are now being hunted by his aide de camp, Emma Ryan. They have two gorgeous children, Tadgh (5) and James (2), both at the meet and enjoying every minute of it.

In fine fettle

Despite the relative youth of the hunt, it is run with a quiet professionalism and both Seamus and Emma are out and out hound people. It is said that Emma can name and rattle off the pedigree of any Suir Vale hound just having seen it look out over the ramp at 100 metres.

They hunt a lovely pack of Old English that would be the envy of many a prestigious foxhound kennel. As well as hunting hounds, acting as kennel huntsman, Emma is a contract milker, milking 150 cows twice a day, including hunting days.

Her whipper-ins on the day were JJ Kinane from Upperchurch where he is involved in construction with Henry Cummins from Rahealty. As recently as 2016, Henry and the Cummins family were voted Ireland’s Fittest Family with Henry setting up his own record by being the longest ever to hold on to the bar in the ‘hang tough’ section.

In the meantime, he has got married to Ashley who was hunting with him the last time we met pre-Covid. As well as farming, the Cummins family are in the garage trade. What the field lacked in numbers, they more than made up for it through enthusiasm and the sheer joy of being out on their horses, enjoying the glorious Tipperary countryside.

Hounds, with Emma looking as professional as ever in her John Peel livery, arrived in good time with her better half and senior master Seamus on hand. Seamus was not riding on the day as he was on family duty with their two young huntsmen, Tadgh and James. In addition, Seamus apologised as he was going to be called away on some urgent farming matter, but the day’s hunting could not have been left in more capable hands.

More than active on the day, liaising with farmers and generally putting arrangements together, was hunt chairman Tom Joe Spillane from Borrosaleigh. He has been involved with the Suir Vale since their inception and puts in a huge effort for the smooth running of the hunt.

Unfortunately he was grounded due to a nasty fall but it didn’t impede him from keeping up with hounds on foot, all day opening and closing wire and generally seeing to the seamless running of the day.

Even before hounds moved off, he was liaising with a couple of local farmers, Bill Flanagan and Martin Ryan, both from Galberstown or thereabouts, as to what fields to avoid due to bloodstock, the rest of their land being totally open for hunting.

First draw

The very first draw was almost immediately across the road in a huge stubble field belonging to Kevin Dwan. It looked like an ideal opportunity for our photographer to get a couple of group photos and while all this was going on, Emma and hunt staff were drawing away. Photography over, the field took off like the start of a winner’s bumper and with absolutely top of the ground and perhaps a mile-long field, they had a right good gallop before they caught up with hounds.

By then without a find, hounds were out on the Galberstown Road. Field-master Raymond Burke from Clonmore, with his red armband as a mark of office, was quite happy to see the field at full stretch. Not found wanting in this sharp gallop were the McLoughlin sisters from the Ragg, Aoife and her younger sister Grainne whose family are in the oil distribution business. Also very much up on the pace was junior event rider, young Patrick Kennedy from Rearcross.

They hacked on the Galberstown road to draw what is known as the Cabragh wetlands. This is adjacent to the old sugar company farm back in the day when sugar beet was the main cash crop in that part of Tipperary.

They drew through Pa Doyle’s farm where they found and hunted on to Killough. After crossing some fine Tipperary country, they marked their fox to ground in Seamus O’Grady’s where he was given best. Going well throughout were Ben Nolan and young Alex Maher from nearby Holycross whose father travels the world as a mining engineer.

Challenging country

They drew on back over the old Thurles to Waterford railway line, built around the now defunct sugar industry where again, they found and ran back for Galberstown before swinging into Fitzpatrick’s and on through O’Meara’s.

Over some challenging country, young Daoireann Egan from Kilanahan was going really well. Shortly after they found in a bit of modern woodland and hunted back through O’Meara’s and swung left for Fitzpatrick’s before marking Reynard to ground just short of Galberstown.

With shadows lengthening and most of the allocated draw for the day used up, Emma very wisely decided to blow for home. All in all a very enjoyable day was had by all over some challenging country.

Catherine and I would like to wish all hunting readers over the season a very Happy Christmas and New Year.

(If any affiliated southern hunt would like a visit for coverage in The Irish Field, feel free to email