Kennels - Beechfield, Abbeyleix, Co Laois.
Chairman - Ray Shore
Joint-Masters - David Lalor, Marcus McLoughlin, Verity O’Mahony
Joint-secretary - Jim Kelly
Point-to-point secretary - David Lalor
Hunter trials secretary - Tony McInerny
Huntsman - Michael Comerford
Whippers-in - Colm Gainey, Shane Barry, Oisin Kelly
Country hunted - All of Co Laois with mixed banks, trenches, hedges, with an occasional wall.
Meets: Wednesday and Saturday, 12 noon
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.
THE small village of Castletown was our venue last Saturday for a meet of the Laois Foxhounds. As we arrived, the village’s only pub, The Castletown Inn which had opened specially for the occasion, was a hive of activity with riders tying their stocks, tightening garter straps and generally putting themselves in proper condition for a day’s hunting.
The front bench were already at the bar having a council of war, senior master David Lalor, chairman Ray Shore and huntsman Michael Comerford. Their council must have been productive because the day went seamlessly and without a hitch.
David, one of Ireland’s longest serving MFH’s, has been in office since 1992 - a creditable 31 seasons. He took over from his father Harry and uncle Dessie who had more than 20 seasons between them. He was riding an up to weight 17.3hh home-bred by Garrison Royale. The other two joint-masters were also to hand, Marcus McLoughlin and Mrs Verity O’Mahony.
The Laois Hunt are nothing if not sociable and there was a great spirit of camaraderie among all present which pretty well included everyone who was going to hunt on the day. Many old friends were there such as sporting artist Liam Clancy and veteran whipper-in Colm Gainey who did not assume high office until he was in his seventies but has taken to his role like a duck to water.
Liam has now become the Irish hunting correspondent for Britain’s Horse and Hound and his hunting reports appear regularly during the season. Dr Pat Meehan, a research fellow from Limerick University, never misses a day in his native Laois. Portlaoise solicitor Billy White is another Laois regular and he, with a few other eminent hunting solicitors and barristers, were mainly instrumental in getting the new hunt insurance across the line.
Event rider Lionel Powell from Rathcormack has now become a Laois regular with a horse in hunting livery with David Lalor from his hunting yard in Ballacolla.
In fact the village of Castletown has strong links with Balllacolla as the last Lord Castletown, one Bernard Fitzpatrick who died in 1937 had lived in the now semi-derelict Castletown Manor in Ballacolla. With his death, the title became extinct as he had no issue.
For all that, Castletown has the air of a plantation village with a large green with enough space to park 100 horse boxes and many fine Victorian houses close by.
But we weren’t there for sightseeing and in good time hounds were enlarged and our huntsman Michael Comerford, on a smashing grey by Ricardo Z, led his hounds out of the village over the bridge on the river Nore. He was hunting 12 and a half couple of Old English and almost all home-bred.
The bridge is flanked by a magnificent old mill, originally known as The Nore Flour and Oat Mill. From its milling days, it had passed into the hands of the De La Salle Brothers who had a large school in the village but it is now owned by Mountrath Golf Club.
Photos of hounds and the field were taken on the historic bridge with its mill in the background before pressing on to the first draw in William Clegg’s very extensive farm, which has a fine fox covert on the banks of the White Horse river, a tributary of the Nore. Interestingly, a distillery in Mountrath, back in the day, was named after the famous river.
Michael Comerford (huntsman) of the Laois Foxhounds with joint-masters Verity O’Mahony and David Lalor at their meet from Castletown \ Catherine Power
Hounds found in the plantation and the music would have put the Berlin Philharmonic to shame. They hunted for about 20 minutes un and down the covert until Reynard decided to make for open country and ran across the country road. He knew the country too well and after a few fields, found a welcoming shore and was left. With area manager Ray Shore, who had put in so much work to make the day a success, leading the way, hounds went on to their next draw in Doheney’s plantation, just across from the old Kilbrickan Railway station.
As hounds drew a felled plantation which was all heavy duty brambles, the home-bred Sunbeam put her stern in the air and threw her tongue. Reynard didn’t delay as he dashed out the other side with the other 12 couple not far behind. There was a good stiff gate but whipper-in Shane Barry, out on a nice grey, popped over it like a hurdle.
Keeping us in touch with the action was JJ McEvoy and amateur photographer and Laois Hunt enthusiast Jim Fennelly, in his wheel-chair adapted vehicle. Jim seems to have a sixth sense as to where hounds are headed and is rarely wrong. As hounds were drawing, he let down the ramp and was able to follow the action through muddy gaps in his AWD wheelchair.
Hounds hunted on in dense country and not found wanting was Richie Mooney from Roscrea, 84 years young, crossing the country like a man half his age. Kevin Brennan from Cannon’s Wood, out on another grey Irish Draught type, was similarly foot perfect. His daughter Alannah couldn’t be out with him as she is studying veterinary medicine in far away Warsaw. The younger generation were well up on the pace with young Sarah Kelly and Charlotte Rowe from Knock, both had a good clear round.
While hounds were casting, we had an opportunity to catch up with old hunting companions such as James Nealon, out on his nice grey, Tony McInerny and Pauline Bowe from Rathdowney, complete with a miraculous medal on her lapel to help keep her safe and it must have been working well as she was as clean as a whistle. Sarah Jane Spencer, also from Rathdowney, a sister to champion flat jockey Jamie, is a Laois regular and was also going well.
With shadows lengthening, hounds drew on by the Nore and while it gave an opportunity for riders to wash their horses, the covert proved blank.
Hounds made the short hack back to the historic village to their boxes where a warm welcome awaited in the Castletown Inn.