COACHFORD is a picturesque village on the banks of the Lee, not too far from Macroom in West Cork. As a result of the building of the Iniscarra dam by the ESB, the river has now become a lake which has swallowed up many houses, bridges and old roads some of which can be seen still peeping their heads just above water as if in protest.

The area is full of hunting history with Rye Court nearby, ancestral home of the Tonson-Rye family and the present home of the family’s last representative, Rosaline Tonson-Rye. The hunt was founded and formed at Rye Court around 1742. This makes it the oldest fox hunt in Ireland, an honour it shares with its neighbouring Duhallow. The wife of the founder, Elisabeth Rye, chose the pale blue of their collar which to this day adorns their livery.

Happily the village of Coachford is well set back from the engrossing waters and, in particular, Callaghan’s very picturesque and welcoming pub doesn’t look likely to be flooded by anything more lethal than revellers any time soon. There to welcome all were the owners, Eileen and Paudie, who had a roaring fire going which is a trademark of the hostelry. For it was there we gathered to see in another season of the Muskerry Sportsmen, recalling the lines from the song:

for ramblin for rovin for huntin and sportin’

for drinkin’ black porter as fast as you fill

in all you days huntin’ you’ll find none so jovial

as the Muskerry sportsman the Bold Thaddy Quill

Well almost everyone in Callaghan’s could have filled the role as the pub, filled with the black and the blue and the scarlet, all looking forward to the start of another great season. Almost the first jockey we met, just parking up his box near the GAA field, was John Cantillon from nearby Waterfall whom we last met hunting with the South Union.

In the meantime, he has become joint-master of the Grallagh Harriers in far flung Galway but as their days don’t clash, he was out on the day. Hunt president and long time supporter Jim Willis from Aherla who has hunted with the Muskerry since Jack Mahony’s time, was riding a smashing new horse which ticks all the boxes. Another veteran was Eamonn Grainger who knows every blade of grass in Muskerry.

Former hunt secretary Michael Barry was on hand to see hounds off but sadly the lure of the day’s rugby international proved too much and he left early. However we had a more than knowledgeable local guide in retired paramedic Antony Buckley who knows the country like the back of his hand.

Sadly he would not pass the trot-up as is recovering from a cruciate injury. Billy O’Connell, who was Fergie Sutherland’s right-hand man when he trained Imperial Call to win the Gold Cup, was on hand with plenty of anecdotes relating to Fergie who only had one leg when he hunted with the Muskerry.

Another hunting stalwarts and long time Muskerry supporters were Dick Dineen and John Dwyer who never miss a day. Recognising a special birthday, Mikey Kelleher was made a special presentation to before the move off.

Beautifully turned out

One by one the joint-masters appeared, as always either in the field or at the bar, led by the ever debonair Robert Harkin from Tower near Blarney. The Harkins make it a family outing with his better half Kay and and daughter Sophia on her trusty cob. Sophia now works with the Cork radio station Red FM. Young Alex Harkin, while he doesn’t ride, is equally enthusiastic flying around in his van and always in the right place at the right time.

Their horses were beautifully turned out by Fiona Coughlan from Kilumney who was also out and going well. As well as running a very busy livery yard, Fiona is a full-time bank official.

Making up the complement of joint-masters was John Crean from Kilumney who was riding a new horse he had bought from Pauric Moynihan and Killian Lynch from Macroom with his ever growing family and his better half Chantal who was on foot due to parental duties. The hunt are fortunate to have a strong mastership who effectively take all important decisions and pick up most of the costs.

Also on hand was young Aoibhe Walsh from Aghabullogue whose family hosted a lawn meet last season. No day in Muskerry would be complete without the father and son team, hunt secretary Donie O’Riordan and amateur whipper-in young Daniel, looking very smart in the Muskerry livery. The family are in the crash repair business so are never short of work.

All the while we met another stalwart of the chase, Fran O’Callaghan, with whom I hunted for many seasons with the Muskerry, the Clares, and other places too numerous to mention. Happily fully recovered from a really nasty fall a couple of seasons ago, she hopes to be back hunting before Christmas. With her was Justin Crosbie who is in the wine trade and a man who knows the difference between a Claret and a Chianti.

Non-stop chase

Just as Callaghans became ever more welcoming, after a few short words from Robert Harkin, the saddling bell sounded and it was all aboard for the short hack to the first draw at Moynihan’s very extensive farm with loads of covert.

Before our photographer could take a proper group photo, hounds had spoken and continued to hunt more or less non-stop until our huntsman blew for home some four hours later. They hunted from Moynihan’s into Bobby Roche’s immaculate dairy farm before Reynard ran on to Tony Dwyer’s farm and went to ground in Cronin’s Quarry.

With dusk fast approaching, Callahan’s sounded like the appropriate final draw. All and sundry were made more than welcome with soup, sandwiches and something appropriate to wash it down.


Muskerry Hunt

Chairman - Brendan Browne

President - Jim Willis

Master and Huntsman - Ken Grandon

Joint-Masters - John Crean, Killian Lynch, Robert Harkin

Whippers-in - Daniel O’Riordan

Kennel Huntsman - Allan Garrigan

Field-master - Donie O’Riordan, Eamonn Grainger

Hon Secretary - Donie O’Riordan

Meets: Wednesday and Saturday 11.30am


The Muskerry Hunt are reputedly the oldest pack in Ireland, though neighbouring Duhallow might dispute this claim. They go right back to the Tonson-Rye family of Rye Court in 1742. Around 1800 the hounds passed to the Hawkes family who retained the mastership for many years with Samuel Hawkes hunting until he was almost 90. In the 1900s, the Mahoneys of Blarney came to the fore with Jack Mahony being master for many years before passing over to Noel Tanner.