PHILIP Desmond must be one of the best known names in hunting, be it in Cork or Waterford, and why wouldn’t he be? As well as farming (occasionally), he has hunted the Cloyne Harriers, the Dungarvan Foxhounds, and the famed Avondhu in North Cork.

He is now joint-master with the West Waterford but doesn’t carry the horn as that onerous task has been passed on to Donal McAuliffe, a young dairy farmer, and it would be hard to find a more enthusiastic huntsman this side of Leicestershire.

The invitation from Philip was concise - “be on the bridge at Ballyduff by 11 on Saturday if you want to see some proper hunting”. Philip was, as ever, looking dashing on a really decent home-bred chesnut by Harkaway Lionhawk. The West Waterford are not the biggest hunt club but certainly the most sporting, running no less than three point-to-points at Tallow, Boulta and Lismore.

Ballyduff, the village, straddles one of Ireland’s most beautiful rivers, The Blackwater. Running to 105 miles long, the Blackwater rises in the mountains of Kerry before draining some of the most fertile land Ireland has to offer in Cork and Waterford. Leaving the wilds of Kerry, the river becomes gentrified as it enters Mallow before flowing though Fermoy and Lismore before entering the sea at Youghal. The picturesque angling village of Ballyduff lies somewhere between Fermoy and Lismore and hounds met just beside the bridge.

A decent number of boxes were already parked, with ramps down, waiting for the off as the ever genial Philip, looking very smart in his pink coat, introduced us to huntsman Donal McAuliffe, and field-master Connie Curley, who captained the Waterford hurling team back in 1985 when they were narrowly beaten by Cork in the Munster final.

His son, Alan, is the whipper-in and is a success story all on his own. He was born with the debilitating condition of cerebral palsy (CP) which can leave many sufferers wheelchair-bound. However, young Alan has overcome his disabilities to become both an enthusiastic and competent rider, never missing a day with the west Waterford, as well as working with his Dad in their schooling yard at home in Tallow.

His father Connie attributes Alan’s recovery to his first pony, Pebbles, who got young Alan going and he has never looked back since.

Hard working hunt secretary Linda Cunningham, out on her nice grey, needed no introduction as she regularly hunts with the Scarteen. Missing were joint-masters Lorna Ward and Martina McGrath, but Martina’s husband Pat Roynane was out. The other joint-masters, father and son Tim and Paul Beecher from Loughnatousa, are very well known in sport horse circles.

Paul won the famed Hickstead Derby in 2013 on the home-bred Loughnatousa WB. The day had a real Hickstead feel about it as hunt treasurer Ann Ledingham is a niece of Capt John Ledingham, a multiple winner of the event on the great Kilbaha. The Beechers were in Andalusia with a team of horses jumping on the Sunshine Tour.

Marvellous hound work

But coffee housing can’t last forever and on the dot of 11.30am, huntsman Donal had 11 and a half couple, every one of them looking a picture, hacking over the bridge to their first draw, just off the Fermoy road and hounds spoke almost immediately.

Riders and foot followers were treated to some marvellous hound work as they ranged up and down the valley. At this stage, we were put under the able guidance of John Joyce, who lives locally and has his own pack of foot harriers, and John McCarthy, with whom I have regularly hunted while visiting many of the Cork packs. Due to some horse issue, he was on foot but hopes to be back in the saddle before the season is over.

They hunted on under the old railway bridge before marking their fox to ground on the banks of the Blackwater. They then drew land belonging to the great racing and hunting family, the Keneallys, but sadly, their quarry failed to hold.

However, the best was still to come. Neilus Mulcahy was out on his daughter’s grey and had a warm welcome for all at his farm at Shanbally. His daughter Aine couldn’t be there as she has just taken up duty as a veterinary surgeon with Glaslyn Vets in Bandon. Likewise his son Cormack was reduced to following the day’s action on the internet as he works as a doctor in Melbourne. However, he is hoping to get in a bit of hunting in with the Oakland Foxhounds who hunt on the outskirts of that city which was founded back in the day by Richard Bourke from Limerick, Governor of the province at the time. Richard Bourke’s descendants still hunt with the Limerick Harriers to this day. To make the young doctor feel even more at home, the Oakland are hunted by Conor O’Dwyer from Laois with young Mark O’Regan from the Limerick Harriers whipping-in.

Neilus runs an Aubrac herd, who have just started calving, so he was keeping half an eye on the cattle shed as hounds drew Shanbally covert, which runs to some 40 acres of natural woodland. They didn’t have too long to wait before a first season dog, Bismarck, bred by the Ballymacad but walked by Philip and Angela Desmond, had a fox afoot.

He was spotted slipping away by Terry Sloan out on his Coolmore-bred hunter. Well, he is by one of the lesser known Coolmore stallions out of a foster mare but inherits all the style and dash of his sire. Terry, when not hunting, travels the world as an advisor for Agri King, the USA-based bovine nutrition company. While back home in Ireland, he hunts every day God gives on the basis that he could called to duty at short notice.

Smashing banks

The Fennel family from Dungarvan were well represented with Lar and his brother Edmund and daughter Aoife all giving a good display over the smashing banks in Shanbally. Neither were husband and wife team of Ann Ledingham and Brendan O’Connell, an electrical engineer, found wanting. Hounds made several loops of the plantation with some nice jumping before Renard found an accommodating earth and was given best.

They then hacked back to what is locally known as the helicopter pad, adjacent to Patrick Ahern’s farm whose daughter Sheila has become a very well established jockey on the point-to-point circuit since her first win on the family-produced Isourbell.

For all the sporting connections, the farm didn’t hold and blowing for home, the field made the hack back to the boxes with the Blackwater as their guide.


West Waterford Foxhounds

Chairman: Michael Browne

Joint-masters: Philip Desmond, Martina McGrath, Lorna Ward, Paul Beecher, Tim Beecher

Hon Secretary: Linda Cunningham

Huntsman: Donal McAuliffe

Whipper-in: Alan Curley, Philip Desmond

Field-master: Connie Curley

Treasurer: Ann Ledingham

Previous masters: Michael O’Brien (1915-’20), Capt Tom and Elsie Morgan (1953-’89).