Founded in 1890, they were originally designated as harriers before assuming the dual mandate of foxhounds and harriers in the eighties and continuing to hunt in green. Their founding master was Major Hickman of Fenloe House who was also a great racing man. Fenloe continued its racing connection under the ownership of the late Tom Costello, who produced five Cheltenham Gold Cup winners including Best Mate, surely a record which will never be beaten. ‘Jimmo’ Quinn later became master and huntsman before passing over to Gerry Burke and Matty Green among others.
Chairman/Master – Kevin Coffee
Honorary Secretary – Des Ryan
Treasurer – Edel McMahon
Huntsman – Paddy Considine
Field Masters – John Quinn, Daragh Hassett
Whippers-in – David Frost, Paul Kilkenny, Ronan Lynch
Point-to-point secretary – Paul O’Neill
Meets – Thursday 12 noon and Sunday 12.30pm
IT’S great to be back hunting having through the dark days of Covid and insurance woes, and where could be better than the Co Clare in their spiritual home of Quin in the heart of Banner County? Clare were fortunate to have been able to hunt right through the insurance hiatus and consequently are entering the new era in a strong position, relative to most other hunts. Over the years, we have hunted innumerable times from Quin and never had a bad day.
Meet time was carded for 12.30pm and not wanting to miss anything, we arrived with an hour in hand only to find five or six boxes already parked and a hunting council of war taking place in Malachy’s Bar between huntsman Paddy Considine and the area managers for the day. As every huntsman knows the key to a good day’s hunting is to have good area managers and they don’t come any better or more committed than Brian Clune and Cyril McMahon, the latter was riding his daughter Edel’s good grey on the day. Brian, who has now stepped down from the saddle, was represented in the field by his nephew, young Conor Clune, who had a clear round and never put a foot wrong all day. Another key member of the background team was Morgan O’Brien who runs the nearby Castle Fergus Riding School. Morgan was hunting a smashing grey and going accordingly.
The Considine family were well represented with Paddy’s partner Aoibhinn, as always immaculately turned out, well mounted on her Huntingfield HeathCliff gelding who can zip over the challenging walls as if they were hurdles in a starter stakes. Huntsman’s brothers Tommy and Dermot were also up front with Dermot’s son young Oisin, all of 13, also to the fore having hunted the previous day with the Blazers.
Malachy’s, adorned with racing and hunting photos, was the place to be and is now run by Eamonn Duggan who comes from a strong racing tradition and has horses in training with Eddie Harty on the Curragh.
Opening meets are opportunities to meet old hunting friend such as Pat and Mary Stafford from Quin, John Horan, former hunt chairman and master, and of course no day in Clare would be complete without Pat ‘Ardsolous’ Hannon, uncharacteristically on foot as his mount had been commandeered by his daughter Julie Ann of the Ward Union.
‘Ardsolous’, while he may deny paternity, is very much the father of the hunt and has now been hunting over the challenging walls for well over 70 seasons. Sadly since season, we lost his namesake and another great stalwart of hunting and racing, Pat Hannon of Newmarket-on-Fergus. May he rest in peace.
Also on foot was recently retired chairman and father to whipper-in David, Kieran Frost, whose hand is recovering from a close encounter with a Limousin bullock, but he hopes to be back in action on his new horse in the near future.
Field-master on the day was John Quin from Cratloe, just on the outskirts of Limerick. His fellow field-master Daragh Hassett who, when not hunting, is Clare’s leading criminal solicitor but he was unavoidably absent as he was a runner in the Dublin Marathon on the day in question.
Oisin Considine takes on the walls in style while out with the Co Clare Hunt at Quin \ Catherine Power
As the saddling bell rang on the dot of meet time, our huntsman sounded the move off and with a field of 50 or so went to the first draw just round the corner from the village with his pack of 18 and a half couple and a well-mounted field of sporting riders.
Garrett Kelly’s was the first draw and hounds spoke almost before the last of the field had left the road. A smashing dash ensued over a variety of the best of Clare walls, only for Reynard to return to a welcoming shore on the edge of the village.
A good pipe-opener in hand, hounds hacked on to draw area manager’s Brian Clune’s farm adjacent to the semi-derelict Ballykilty Manor which, back in the day, was a hotel, still displaying a faded ‘Failte Ireland’ sign beside the hall door. It had been the home to the Bindon-Blood family but had originally been known as ‘Plassey’ as it was built by Major General Robert Clive (Clive of India) and was named to remember his most famous victory. He reportedly recalled: “The name of the place (now Palashi) where we gained our great victory in India to which I owe all my good fortune.” The victory was the Battle of Plassey in June 1757. In 1762, he was ennobled as The 1st Baron Clive of Plassey in the County of Clare.
Sadly, Ballykilty itself is badly in need of a rescuer and I could see two serious builders, Brian McCarthy and Ronan Wood, casting a professional builder’s eye over it as hounds drew the adjacent woods. Brian has been hunting with the Clares since well before the first moon landing but he still crosses the country like a sailor on steroids!
However, there not only was the manor deserted but likewise, the woods failed to produce a resident, and hounds went on to draw Malachy’s gallops and schooling grounds where many had parked their boxes on the day. Malachy, who trains mostly National Hunt horses under the prefix PJF Hassett, has a couple of real good stiff walls and showing a bit of style were Mark ‘Sparky’ Mulvihill and his partner Tessa Neilson. Another couple to show a bit of class, but coming from a different generation, were former chairman Derek and Pauline Burke and neither was current in-coming chairman Kevin Coffee, out on a nice grey, found wanting.
The proximity to the meet and perhaps the thoughts of a warm welcome back at Malachy’s pub somewhat reduced the field but the stayers (and there were plenty of them) pressed on to the next draw in Brian McCarthy’s equestrian farm with jumping of every variety and plenty of it.
Jumping done but no Reynard, they hacked on past Knapogue Castle to draw what was described as a sure find in more land of Brian Clune’s. Here he took your correspondents under his wing and we must have gone five or six fields into the interior to find hounds drawing a crag.
They weren’t well there when there was first a whimper only to be followed by the Clare orchestra in full song. Our pilot was viewed with a rousing ‘Holloa’ which could have been heard on the main runaway at Shannon some 10 miles away and they were away over some challenging walls, jumping often off crags, but the Clare horses have adapted to these less than ideal ground conditions. Hounds hunted on until almost dark when our huntsman very reluctantly blew for home.
Little was left but to wash off in the Rine river which runs through Quin and savour a reviving bowl of soup in Malachy’s Bar.