IT was sheer joy standing on top of a hill with Thomas Dunne and Hugh Fitzpatrick Snr to enjoy the voice and drive of the Drumlin Harriers pack.
They have incredible work-rate, so accurate on a line, and are made up of all traditionally bred harriers, which reminded me of the late Cavan huntsman Michael Shalvey’s foot pack. Many came from Billy Vance in Fermanagh and, as true harriers, they hunt only hare.
It was a pleasure to watch the hounds weave their intricate lines over the drumlins and down into the valleys through the wet shucks and never lift their heads. You just could not distract them. The huntsman Hugh Fitzpatrick is a sympathetic huntsman, just leaving the pack alone as he knows his hounds know more about hunting than any human.
The Drumlin are a family pack, set up to serve families in the community, horse producers and especially young adults and children, many hunting for the first time. They have high standards of turn out, but no red or green jackets, black jackets do just fine. I was reminded of the opening words of another Cavan huntsman Stanislaus Lynch’s wonderful poem:
‘We don’t turn out in scarlet,
We are quite at home in tweeds;
We have no aristocratic hounds
Or blood four-figure steeds:
Our home is in the up-lands
Where the Great Creator spills
His richest browns and purples
On our everlasting hills.’
I met up with Drumlin joint-master Austin Fitzpatrick, now in his 54th season hunting, who is also chairman of the Irish Master of Harriers Association. He was rich in his praise for his fellow IMHA committee members who have been very much involved in the resolution of the hunt insurance issue, particularly Rosemary Fisher (Donegal Harriers), Michael Lennon (Mayo Harriers), John O’Sullivan (Killeady Harriers) and Aileen Byrne, chairman of the Hunting Association of Ireland. The details of the new insurance plan was presented last week to the harrier hunt clubs to a mixed reception.
Austin also spoke of their concerted campaign with the Border County MLAs in support of their hunting colleagues in Northern Ireland to overturn John Blair MLA’s Bill to Ban Hunting with Dogs in the Northern Ireland, which they saw as an attack on rural Ireland. The Bill was rejected by some members of the DUP, UUP, SDLP and the Democratic Labour Party, but its fate was finally sealed when Sinn Fein, one of the largest parties, voted en bloc against the Bill which was rejected 45 votes to 38.
Following by car was Hugh Fitzpatrick Snr who served as whipper-in to the late Billy Vance of the Fermanagh Harriers. He broke Billy’s great mare Annie Sue VI, the winner of a remarkable 26 point-to-point races and runner-up in two La Touche renewals. Hugh also breeds sport horses, some competed by Richard Smyth and Francis Connors who jumped Erne Lady Goldilocks at Dublin Horse Show. Hugh also breeds thoroughbreds and has had horses in training with Tony Mullins and if you ever need a jeep, he owns Erne Motors in Cavan.
Redhills is a beautiful village with a community that goes back generations. It boasts a fair green which hosts an annual carnival. It would be an ideal location to retire to as by 11.30am not one shop was open! They could market it to all those promoting work life balance as they have it sorted already. Two films were made in Redhills, The Playboys and The Run of the Country by Redhills native Shane Connaughton.
Huntsman Hugh Fitzpatrick was joined by his wife Siobhan, who was riding a smashing hunter. Meet manager, chairman and joint-master David Dunne also farms cattle and sheep including Texels, Belclare and Lleyn. He also breeds horses and was riding a home-bred at the meet.
Early to the meet were joint-master Austin Fitzpatrick with his grandchildren - Odhran Smith (14) on Murphy, Aoibheann (12) in her fourth season hunting on Ash, and Blaithin (9) on Polly. Also Roy Anderson, Padraic Smith and Mick Shanaghy, who came all the way from Wyoming in the USA, as well as Jessica and Niall McKiernan. Aaron Clarke was having his first hunt and crossed the country like a seasoned follower. Following too were Melvyn Clarke, Gavin Smith, Rachel McCarron and Derek Hayes from Southampton.
Meeting in the village, the huntsman moved off with 11½ couple of traditional harriers. These followers are real sportsmen and women as they go out to just appreciate the countryside and to challenge themselves and their horses with hounds only going as fast as their noses allow. It also provides a sport to further educate their young horses and ponies and access their true potential.
The first draw was in the woods on the estate beside the village, owned by Michael McElhinney, and then on to joint-master David Dunne’s farm in Kilnacross where his son, James, had a vantage point on the hill.
Huntsman Hugh Fitzpatrick laid on his pack by Drumena Lough where the followers were treated to a number of hunt jumps which they took in style. Then up the hill in Drumina and right-handed down to Drumena Bog where they found their first hare by Clara Lake.
The fox ran right-handed from McCarron’s towards Dunne’s farmyard. She was a beautiful specimen and extended her lead significantly as she covered the ground so easily. She jinked and made it difficult for the pack, who stuck to their task, muzzles glued to the ground as they weaved their way on the line but they were always at a disadvantage. She did another circle, almost identical to the first circle, and shook off the pack at her ease at the top of Drumena.
Crossing back to McCarron’s in the Mulloghar townland, they picked up another customer who brought them on another nice spin running over Kilnacross towards Mark Smith’s workshop, crossing the hill by the Ballyhaise Road where they lost her.
They drew back to Mark Smith’s in Glandrummon and Smith’s Plantings between the White Lake and the Deep Lough where, with tricky ditch jumping, it was wise to follow somebody with local knowledge. They finished a smashing day’s hunting in spectacular scenery in Andy Hueston’s.
There was no visit to the local pub which they would usually support, but their policy is to be Covid-compliant and not put anybody at risk.
What an area to retire to, stress-free, and a smashing hunt club on your doorstep!
The Drumlin Harriers were founded in 1999 with the membership drawn from the local farming community hunting within a 20-mile radius of Cootehill. It is also an outlet for producing young horses and for local horse breeders to improve their young horses education.
The Drumlin Harriers
Chairman: David Dunne
Masters: Austin Fitzpatrick, David Dunne, Joe Lynch, Michael Carolin and David Pickins
Huntsmen: Hugh Fitzpatrick and Edgar Drury
Whippers-in: David Dunne and Brian Reilly
Honorary Secretary: Niall McKiernan