I WAS on familiar soil visiting The Fingal Harriers at the Coolquay Lodge as I whipped-in for nearly 15 seasons and enjoyed many days hunting the pack, so the country is familiar to me.
I could not have enjoyed it as much as I did without Walter, the best hunter I was privileged to own, who Terry White - hunting the Fingals at the time - found for me in Walter Kent’s yard in Wexford. I wrote a six-page dedication to Walter in my book on Irish Horse Fairs when he came to the end of his life.
When it was reviewed in the USA, the reviewer commented that she had reviewed 100s of books, but it was the first book she reviewed dedicated to a horse! I did however later dedicate my Dublin Horse Show book to my wife Emer.
A Master of the game
A good days hunting can be hit or miss, but when senior Fingal master Brian Beggan, now in office for over 25 seasons, is organising the hunt country you can be sure that he has more than a day’s country on hand. He was on home ground at Coolquay and is on first name terms with all the farmers in the area.
Brian could be described as ‘A man for all seasons’; he is a party person, very popular with followers and known all over the country for his support of hunt chasing. Indeed Brian has his own course with a challenging water obstacle that has seen riders submerged captured on camera that would win any photo competition.
It did not help the competitors’ nerves when walking the course to see Brian sitting on the bank, in a frogman outfit!
He gets his taste in fine dining from his family’s association with Jammet’s Restaurant, now sadly no more, which was once described as the finest French restaurant in Europe, which attracted clients like President John F Kennedy and his wife Jackie, John Lennon, Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth and Prince Aly Khan. It is mentioned in James Joyce’s Ulysses as ‘Crowded with gourmets and wits’!
As a man who made such a success in the fashion trade, he has a wardrobe for all occasions, even the odd spectacular uniform and admiral’s hat that you might otherwise see in a D’Oyly Carte opera, and has been known to appear into a Hunt Ball on a wooden horse. At Christmas he could have fairy lights on the mane of his hunter Alfie.
Brian’s farm provides a comfortable home for his retired hunters where they lead a charmed life, with five-star facilities, and they have the company also of his broodmares and young stock. He has had a succession of hunters, mainly Irish Draughts, who have acquired their own personalities like Honky, Alfie, and Miss Nancy.
The latter he allowed to stop to graze on top of the RDS Hunt Chase Bank while competing for the Fingal Harriers! He also sponsored the Irish Draught Classes in Dublin for some years and the Best Dressed Lady at the Galway Races.
Tommy O’Neill, Ado McGuinness and Dermot McLoughlin have all trained for him.
A memorable event was when he took his horse Mose Harpur to the famous Velka Pardubice steeplechase in the Czech Republic on two occasions. While the horse finished full of running, unfortunately it was without his jockey! Ten Bears and Lady Iseult he says are work in progress.
Darren Boylan is hunting the pack this season, but the hounds are cared for by kennel huntsman Neil Cooney. This follows the retirement of Chris Smith who hunted the pack for 17 seasons. Darren is a fine horseman as he point-to-pointed and rode work for a number of trainers in the area, as well as hunting with the Ward Union Staghounds.
Whipping-in is farrier and joint master Stephen Comerford and Darren ‘Swifty’ Jordan, two good men to cross country. Swifty has put many good horses through his hands, one in the news recently was Corraghoe Steel who won a Grand Prix in Spain ridden by an up-and-coming star Ella Clancy (featured recently in The Irish Field by Roisin Sheridan).
I remember Ella competing on her Connemara pony Kilshanny Snowball at the Dublin Horse Show. Ella’s father Liam was master of the Blazers for many years. Swifty has also produced Kilbrew Field of Dreams, winner of the Heavyweight Working Hunter Class in Dublin and Kilbrew Legend, fourth in the Performance Irish Draught Class.
Of the 14½ couple of hounds hunting, 2½ couple were first season and, as we found out later, they were alternating leading the pack on what turned out to be a very enjoyable day
Ready for the action was Roisin Hughes who inherited Michael Monaghan’s Guinness barrel used as a mounting block. Michael was a well-known veterinary surgeon who hunted with the Fingals from the time he left his native Galway to share a practice with the late Tadgh O’Scannell.
Others hunting were Anto Dunne, Carol O’Grady on her smashing Irish Draught by Fintan Himself, Anna McArdle, Mary Beggan, Susan Oakes who hunts also with the Ward Union and the Tara Harriers, hunt chairman Helena Dawson of Kilronan Equestrian Centre. Marie Byrne was on her five-year-old Irish Draught by Carrick Cottage Star who she competed on this year at the Dublin Horse Show. The rumour has it that she is contemplating competing in the side saddle class next year.
The meet was close to the Dublin Airport flight path so every time hounds found we were treated to some spectacular music until a plane drowned out the special sound with groaning engines trying to reach altitude, the worst being the turbo props. We will have to get the airport shut on hunting days!
But the hounds did the talking on the day as, after a short hack, the huntsman drew Coorstown and found straight away, but this customer circled the covert and was reluctant to leave so he sought refuge underground. It was the start of a day of continuous hunting until dusk in this well-foxed area.
Crossing the river hounds drew along the ditches in Ken McCarthy’s and found a brace, one headed to Saint Margaret’s, and the pack was led by first season hound Gorgeous out of 2½ couple of new entry which included Gosling, Wicklow, Winston and Goldsmith.
They settled on the second one with a bob tail like one we used to hunt in Saddlestown Glen in Stamullen for many years. He eventually straightened up across Timmy Fitzgerald’s to the back of the Brock Inn where hunt staff stopped them as they came to the Ashbourne Road.
The next draw was at the back of Hugo Byrne’s in Saint Margaret’s. Hugo is a brother of Sean who was master of the Ward Union for many years.
Hounds found again but with the heavy cover it took some time to dislodge him, but he gave the followers a great spin all the way to Kilshane Cross where he turned and ran back the same line to Kilshane Castle and to ground.
In Jim Scully’s hounds found again running through Jim’s yard but headed back to St Margaret’s and Kilshane Castle where the huntsman blew for home. Despite the fact that it was getting dark, master Brian Beggan took the followers back across country to the meet.
It was an interesting day as hounds were on song despite the aircraft taking off and the huntsman showed great sport making it one of the best hound hunting days of the season.
Sadly, we later heard that former publican Gerry Murtagh who owned one of the most popular hunting pubs in Fingal, Murtagh’s of Ballough, had passed away. We send our condolences to Maeve and the family.