ON my way to the Westmeath Foxhounds meet at Breda Cuffe’s Cunningham’s Bar at Ballymore, Co Westmeath, the passing of Lisa Marie Presley was being discussed on the car radio. As someone who grew up on Elvis Presley music, I was all ears recalling his music by the showbands at the dances we attended weekly all over the West of Ireland.

As I passed the Hill of Uisneach, the dead centre of Ireland on Slieve Assail, one of the five ancient roads from the Hill of Tara, I recalled the locals telling me some years ago that Michael Jackson, who was married to Lisa Marie at one time, spent a number of months recording at the nearby Grouse Lodge Studios.

The Studio has hosted REM, Snow Patrol, Will.i.am, Paulo Nuttini, Simple Minds, Rihanna, The Waterboys and many more international groups. One standout moment I am told was when Michael Jackson sat down at the drums with studio owner Paddy Dunning on the bass guitar, and his nephew, his producer, on the keyboards working up a rendition of Jackson’s major hit Billie Jean, a single from chart-topping album Thriller.

In a strange way I wondered, fast forwarding 16 years, whether there could be a hunting version of Thriller in store for me that day if the Westmeath Foxhounds were equally on song. But more of that later.

Hunt country

The Westmeath hunt country is mostly good old sod as there was a tradition that cattle were purchased from the poorer land in the West of Ireland and finished off in the rich grassland of Westmeath. There are so many natural coverts and a number of hunt coverts developed by the Westmeath Hunt over the last century.

It is also a wonderful area for equestrianism with Mullingar Equestrian Centre, Gigginstown Stud and Trevor Badger’s Bridge House Stud. Westmeath hunt chairperson Emily Murphy’s husband Ciaran runs the very successful Charlestown Racing which, with Dot Love, did all the breaking for Gigginstown and put top horses like Don Cossack, Tiger Roll, War of Attrition, Dawn Shadow, and Liberty Counsel through their hands.

Joint-master of the Westmeath Foxhounds, Ann Derwin with fellow master Cyril O'Hara at their meet from Ballymore \ Noel Mullins

Masters and hunt staff

Cyril O’Hara has joined the mastership of Ann Derwin, Helen Moorehead and Jim Derwin. Huntsman Niall Dunne had whipped-in to James Lowry in Co Westmeath before taking over the Waterford Foxhounds and then returning to Westmeath and he told me that Lowry is still a great support to him. Niall was joined by his wife Kitty and their baby daughter Jasmine.

The honorary secretary Marion Mortell, whose husband Mark was joint-master for 16 seasons, plays a pivotal role in running the hunt. Their daughter Alison, who used to hunt, is teaching in Aberdeen.

Gary Reilly is the professional whipper-in, as well as Niall’s brother Shane and father Brian. Young Jamie Kelleghan, when not at school, helps out in kennels, and with autumn hunting as well as acting as road whip. He has his sights set firmly on going into hunt service as soon as he finishes school. He demonstrated that he is very fit, covering the country on foot, but he can’t wait to get proficient on horseback. The field-master is Ken Carroll, with the back-up team of Kevin McGuire, Mark Riggs, Christy King and fencing handled by Darragh Lambe and Joseph Keogh.

Hound breeding

Niall Dunne is a very knowledgeable hound breeder, and having hunted the Waterford Old English pack and whipped-in to James Lowry who hunted mainly Modern hounds, he likes a mix of both. He feels it is important to preserve the old bloodlines that Lowry and his predecessor, John Smith, bred to such great effect.

Niall swept the boards at the National Hound Show at Stradbally last year, his hounds winning the Doghound Unentered Restricted Class with Wigwam ’21, the Unentered Doghound Couples Open Class with Denman ’21 and Wigwam ’21, the Reserve Unentered Doghound Champion and Reserve Doghound Champion both with Wigwam’21. In the bitch classes, Niall’s hounds won the Unentered Bitch Restricted Class with Wishful ’21 and Reserve Old English Stallion Hound Champion with Tenor ’19, quite an impressive haul of trophies at one hound show. And what was even more pleasing was that I could see these hounds performing on the day.


Dessie Green arrived in his monster American Kenwood truck, with its 450 horsepower engine and 12 speed automatic gearbox - the most striking horsebox I have seen. Others hunting were Cillian Connelly and Derek O’Hara, whose brother Cyril is the new master. Ken Carroll, who also acts as field-master, was hunting with Aine Broderick, Donnan and Erin Cleary, and Clair Goddard from Strasbourg, France. There were two visitors joining from the Stonehall Harriers and two from the Louth Foxhounds.

Hunt chairperson Emily Murphy, a talented event rider in her day, was at the meet while former point-to-point jockey Sean McManus was always in the right place. He is also chairman of the Streamstown Harriers who are planning to have a point-to-point for the first time.


The Westmeath Foxhounds are a no-nonsense pack and as they moved to the first draw, the followers could not wait to open the gate off the road as the huntsman just stood back a few strides and cleared it. The followers followed suit for the first draw in Jimmy Harrington’s. The blackthorns held and a nice slow hunt followed which we could enjoy the beautiful hound music as they marked him in Ger Lynam’s.

Another nice hunt followed as the pack found another in a small piece of gorse by the Plantings. The pack hunted up the valley by the sand hills and the pond with Westmeath Tenor and the Old English hound Armless as well as Wishful, Wisdom and Wigwam, and Bobcat (by Belvoir Worker) that Niall bred when he hunted the Waterfords. Clonavan Covert held and the fox ran in circles but when they got to the higher ground, the wind played tricks with scent but hounds marked him also.

They crossed the road and headed across country to horse breeders Pat and the late Nicholas Connaghton’s where there were plenty of fallers in the swollen river. They found in Andreas Dolan’s, who hunts with the Glasson Farmers, and ran in circles and to ground. Four foxes found and marked to ground and it was only 1.30pm!

Action aplenty

However, the real action started after they crossed a bit of country over Spollen’s, Mulrennan’s, where they drew Paddy Martin’s. They hit a line straight away and screamed away to running into the hunt covert at Ballinevir and out the other side, then left-handed across the Mullingar road towards Resign Bog through Jimmy Harrington’s home farm. They crossed the road again into John Kearney’s, crossing another road into Anthony Scally’s, where they checked on the road.

Here the doghound Tenor, who is sharp on a road, picked up scent, which is difficult with the pollution from passing cars. He did not hesitate and his bellowing voice brought the pack on, running left-handed by Blackwood Bog and back again to Resign Bog left-handed again. Young Jamie Kelleghan saw the fox bolt himself - game for more running - and alerted the huntsman. Jamie followed the complete run on foot as they ran in the same loop back.

The only way out to keep up with them was a strong hedge onto the Ballymore to Mullingar road which the last five still mounted took on - huntsman Niall Dunne, whipper-in Garry Reilly, field-master Ken Carroll, Niall’s father Brian and Barry Donoghue. Jamie saw the fox leaving the rock pile and they eventually had a successful conclusion.

I don’t know if Westmeath huntsman Niall Dunne is musical, but the verdict was unanimous, his hounds were definitely on song and produced a very different but equally exciting rendition of a Hunting Thriller at Ballymore.

They came home in the dark after one of the best days of the season with Sean McManus driving ahead to light up the road.

Makes you want to return back soon!


The hunt was established in 1854. The country at present has existed since 1870.


The Westmeath Foxhounds

Chairman - Emily Murphy

Masters - Ann Derwin, Helen Moorehead, Jim Derwin and Cyril O’Hara

Huntsman - Niall Dunne

Whipper-in - Gary Reilly

Field Master - Ken Condon

Hon Secretary - Marion Mortell