THE good news is that hunting and point-to-pointing is back up and running nationwide. Last weekend saw the Laois, the Wards, the Louth, Nth Tipperary, The Ormond and many more - all of whom had been stood down since well before Christmas - back in the hunting field.

Spoilt for choice, we felt it would be appropriate to revisit the Laois as it was their master in his former role as chairman of the Irish Masters of Foxhounds, the inimitable David Lalor, who had acted as the midwife for the birth of the new insurance scheme.

Cannon’s Wood is a totally rural meet but not too far from Ballacolla. We had hunted from this very meet a couple of seasons ago so it was found without too much difficulty. Hounds were just being enlarged as we arrived and they looked a picture, obviously none the worse for their enforced lay-off.

Huntsman Michael Comerford looked immaculate in his pink coat having being used to the more sombre John Peel Green when he hunted the nearby Golden Vale up to last season. He was hunting the usual 12 and a half couple of Old English, up there with highest of standards set by Duhallow or Limerick.

While there is a half a cricket team of whippers-in on the Laois roster, on the day it was the veteran Colm Gainey - looking equally immaculate in his new pink coat - and on his very business-like coloured hunter, who was on duty. In explanation, the notice of resumption was very short and several were already committed to other duties.

The last time we hunted from Cannon’s Wood, hunt chairman Lionel Foot had organised ad hoc refreshments from the back of his farm jeep but again, due to the short notice as to when hunting might start, this was not possible. However the ever genial Lionel was on hand. Though he no longer rides, he has an encyclopedic knowledge of the hunt country.

Senior-Master David Lalor was on hand and from the depths of his lorry appeared not one but three hunters - his new home-bred grey, followed by a nice bay to be ridden by incoming hunt secretary Cameron Cleland.

She hails from Abbeyleix where her family run a chain of supermarkets. In her spare time, Cameron rides out for trainer Michael Halford. Cameron and Stephanie Carter (who was out on foot) are two young women who have stepped up to the plate to take on the secretaryship of the hunt on the retirement of Frances McEvoy who stepped down to take on the onerous role of being a young mother. The third animal was for Susie Van Der Poil who live in Cahir, Co Tipperary, but hunts consistently with the Laois. Formerly Susie Jones, she lived for some years in Derbyshire where she would have hunted with the Shire Packs.

Woodland hunting

The first draw was Collins Wood, owned by Paddy Collins, a noted producer of gun dogs.

Once hounds had settled, what started as whimper turned into smashing woodland hunting and with plenty of tracks through the natural woodland, it was easy to stay in touch with the action. However, all too soon, hounds marked and they hacked on to draw Robert Landen’s magnificent beef farm.

No less than former Laois huntsman Billy Phelan had rung his successor the night before hunting with the message, “If you don’t find in Landen’s spinney, you might as well go home.”

His words were prophetic as when hounds drew the small spinney near the house, third season Speedy threw her tongue and as the pack rallied to her, our eagle-eyed whipper-in Colm Gainey could be heard hollowing from the far side and hounds were away like a flash. They ran towards the farmyard where they were briefly at fault only for the huntsman to cast them towards Costigan’s and they were away.

Keeping us in touch with the action was hunt secretary’s father JJ McEvoy and amateur photographer and Laois enthusiast Jim Fennelly in his wheelchair-adapted vehicle. Jim seems to have a sixth sense as to where hounds are headed and is rarely wrong.

Olympic breeders

Work was going apace from Costigan’s dairy yard with a couple of slurry tankers loading up. The Costigans were great sport horse breeders back in the day and owned and bred Cullohill Castle who, ridden by Francis Connors, competed in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

Hounds ran on towards the bottom of the farm where they met a really decent bank and trench.

Michael Comerford on his smashing grey (by Killea Hiil Down), produced by Michael Costigan of Clonakenny, gave a great display over it, closely followed by Gainey.

However for style and dash, the award has to go to young Alannnah Brennan, a third year veterinary student in the University of Warsaw. She was hunting with her dad Kevin who lives nearby.

They hunted on at some speed as they were going to Srath but swung left-handed for Francis Scott’s farm. Francis is a nephew of the great hunt supporter and renowned Hereford breeder Lily Campion. They hunted almost to the outskirts of Ratdowney before swinging back almost retracing their steps before marking in Scott’s farm.

It was the first day back after the enforced lay-off and huntsman wisely decided his hounds had plenty done and blew for home.


Laois Foxhounds

Kennels: Beechfield, Abbeyleix, Co Laois

Chairman: Lionel Foot

Joint-masters: David Lalor, Marcus McLoughlin, Verity O’Mahony

Joint-secretaries: Frances McEvoy and Joe Lalor (Email:

Point-to-point secretary: David Lalor

Hunter trials secretary: Tony MacInerney

Huntsman: Michael Comerford

Whippers-in: Harry Lalor, Colm Gainey, Shane Barry, Jock Thompson

Country hunted: All of Co Laois with mixed banks, trenches, hedges with an occasional wall


The hunt was formed in 1850 when the Emo Hounds amalgamated with the Ossory Hounds to form the Queen’s County Hunt, now known as the Laois Hunt.

Meets: Wednesday and Saturday at noon.