BASED near Middleton in East Cork, hounds are kennelled in a state of the art modern kennels at Clonmult with 25 couple of top-class Old English hounds. One of Ireland’s longest established hunts, United Foxhounds were founded over 140 years ago.
With no master in office, the long serving chairman Dom Daly is very much at the helm. Tommy O’Dowd is their current huntsman, having learned his trade with the nearby Avondhu Foxhounds. One of the better funded packs in the country, turnout is always top class.
Otherwise they are a completely amateur pack with members of the field acting as whippers-in. There is a fair share of plough in the United country. It generally rides light with dry banks being the pre-eminent obstacles. The United is very much point-to-point country with the hunt organising no less than six top-class meetings each season.
Dom Daly was our guide and it would be hard to find better, as well as being one of Cork’s leading auctioneers, he knows every nook and cranny of his native county. Added to that he has been hunting with the United since he was in short pants and his knowledge is nothing short of encyclopaedic. Dom has been chairman of the United since 1992, the year Cool Ground (25/1), with Adrian Maguire in the plate, won the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
For those whose knowledge of East Cork is somewhat short of Dom’s, and that includes almost everyone, Coppingerstown Cross is not too far from the town of Middleton and is just behind the village of Ballinacurra. Surprisingly it boasts neither pub nor shop as it is called after the Coppinger family who were both brewers and distillers back in the day. So any fortifying potions required by jockeys had to be provided privately.
Perhaps the most distinguished member of the Coppinger family was one JJ Coppinger. Born in Middleton in 1834, he first sought fame as a soldier in the papal army before moving across the Atlantic to take part in the American civil war on the Union side.
Friend and foe to the Indians, he was wounded in the second battle of Bull Run. Happily, no such misfortune befell those hunting with the United from the cross that bears his name.
Coppinger’s Cross does not jump off the map so we arrived suitably early only to find hunt treasurers, Dr Brendan Russell and Catherine, his wife, were already unboxing. They live in nearby Glountane. He practises as a dentist in metropolitan Cork and comes with a strong medical lineage.
Huntsman is Tommy O’Dowd, whom we last met when he was hunting the nearby Avondhu Foxhounds from a meet at Clondulane near Fermoy. He was hunting 10 and a half couple of Old English, and United bloodlines are much sought after. His usual whips were missing for one reason or another but ably filling in was Steven Griffin on his good grey.
All ages out
No hunt could have a more enthusiastic foot follower than the huntsman’s nephew young Rian Lenehan (12), who kept a special look out for his favourite hound, Larry, who, by all accounts, performed well on the day.
Out on foot was the veteran Ned Moran who, at 87, must be the oldest member of hunt staff anywhere in the hunting world. Sadly, he had horse problems, but was hoping to be back in action in the very near future. Last time I met him was from a meet at Loughantousa where he was giving a lead to Paul Beecher!
Ned took over duty as guide for the second half of the day. Despite being a Kildare man, he knows every blade of grass in his adopted county. Ned started his hunting career as a lad with the Naas Harriers, then hunted by Paddy Powell, a great uncle to The Irish Field editor, Leo, with no less a horseman than Pat Taaffe acting as his whipper-in.
In 1962, Ned moved south to work on the building of Cork Airport and using his skills developed in laying runaways, became one of Ireland’s leading providers of all-weather gallops, arenas and such like. The business continues to prosper but his son Billy now mainly runs the show.
United never have a huge field and generally have no appointed field-master; every rider is responsible for their own actions. We were able to catch up on many old friends such as Avena O’Keeffe, originally from Cashel, with whom I had many pleasant and challenging days hunting with the ‘Tans.
She now lives near Middleton and is a Turf Club official, both on the track and at point-to-points. Likewise it was nice meet up again with Donie O’Riordan, in the characteristic blue collar of the neighbouring Muskerry Foxhounds.
Always well turned out was accountant Stephen Lucey out with his daughter Kate. Stephen comes with a strong agricultural pedigree as his dad, until retirement, was the CEO of Dairygold.
With little formality hounds moved off to their first draw, nearby in Daly’s farm which has its own fox covert. For all that it was blank, and hounds went on to draw Murnane’s Bog.
Being near the road, it afforded foot followers and the field alike, a good view of hounds working and sure enough a fine fox was viewed away by Colm Falvey, who is involved in the hospitality industry.
Sadly, our pilot was headed as he attempted to cross the nearby road by a passing car and returned to the sanctuary of Murnane’s Bog from which he showed no intention of leaving. Eventually our huntsman had to lift hounds and press on to the next draw just at the back of Ballinacurra village, mainly on Paul and Noel McCarthy’s very extensive farm. The McCarthys are a most sporting family, having bred that very useful horse Ballinacurra Lad, trained by the late John Crowley.
With nice jumping, hounds drew on through the farm before drawing a really thick covert at the bottom of their farm near the Cloyne road.
It wasn’t too long before the leading hound spoke, and Reynard was spotted slipping away. Here the field were treated to some smashing jumping, dry banks enshrined with briars which could be taken at speed with top of the ground going.
Giving a real good lead was our huntsman on a third season horse, brought on by Paul Tobin of Ballynoe. Not far behind was Avena O’Keeffe (now Murphy) on a young horse, closely followed by Erick O’Driscoll on another young horse he was bringing on but a certain star of the future.
Not found wanting was United veteran Mary Daunt on her on-going coloured closely followed by Muskerry honorary secretary Donie O’Riordan who gave a great display.
Hounds hunted on around the very extensive McCarthy farm only to eventually return to the covert from which he first flew.
With plenty done, our huntsman wisely decided to blow for home and the field made the short hack back to Coppingerstown Cross.
The United Foxhounds
Chairman: Dom Daly (1992)
Honorary Secretary: John Morrissey
Huntsman: Tommy O’Dowd
Whipper-in: Ned Moran, Steven Lucey, John Morrissey