IT is just 110 years since two neighbouring farming families, the Shaughnessys and the McDonaghs, founded the Stonehall’s.

While much has changed in the intervening century or so, the same families remain at the helm with the joint-masters being the veteran Michael O’Shaughnessy, in office since 1953, and Ivan McDonagh, a relative apprentice having only taken on the mastership as recently as 1995.

What else remains as firm as the day they were founded is the warm welcome for all and the sporting tradition that goes with it. The hunt is very much still there and thriving. In the intervening decades, Michael hunted hounds with great success for over 30 seasons and Ivan carried the horn for nine. Both have remained on as active masters and key players in the hunt to the present day.

So in keeping with tradition, their opening meet was held on the last week of October at the kennels, just off the main Limerick-Askeaton road, where light refreshments were served to all and sundry. Sadly, one cornerstone of the hunt was missing as, for the first time probably in 90 seasons, Michael O’Shaughnessy was absent as was his better half Peggy, both in hospital. No doubt all hunting people will join me in wishing this gallant couple well.

The last time I hunted from this meet, both Ivan and I were mounted on our two trusty greys but on this occasion, we had joined the ranks of foot followers. Tempus fugit!

Huntsman Jamie Cross, now in his third season, had his hounds in cracking order. Hunting 13 and a half, the pack is made up entirely of Irish harriers which he favours. A mad keen hunting man, he also hunts the Ballybrown Harriers on foot and they are kennelled with the Stonehall. A builder by trade, Jamie parks his building gear for the winter so he can concentrate on the important things in life. Just to make sure he is riding fit, Jamie rides out for two trainers every morning, real early with Will Doherty on his pointers and finishes off with Charles Byrnes. No wonder he looks fit and could jump up on his chesnut as if he was on springs!

First draw is Bansha House, the home of Ivan McDonagh who, pre-Covid, would have hosted a lawn meet, but the same welcome as always remained with Ivan and a group of Stonehall stalwarts such as Tommie Kelly, Antony Cusack and physicist Dr Pat Meehan, all on hand to see hounds safely away. Just east of the house lies the very first wall and it lived up to its reputation by causing not a few problems.

Hunt staff were led by Jamie Cross on a business-like chesnut who took it in his stride, closely followed by field-master Brendan Magner and locum whipper-in Mark Simey who formerly hunted with the Laois. Summoned on the day from the depths of Kerry to help out was David Trant, the sporting and hard-riding huntsman of the North Kerry Harriers as regular whippers-in, young Tadgh Hanley and Kieran Burke, were both missing.

Jamie Cross, huntsman of the Stonehall Harriers, leads the field through the dairy herd of former huntsman John Finucane at Ballyengland \ Catherine Power

Tadgh’s father, hunt chairman Timmy Hanley, is out of action from both hunting and farming as a result of a schooling fall off a young horse. Hopefully he will be back in action shortly.

David Moran was on hand as wall builder but he had to replace no stones after his daughters, Denise and Aishling, showed all the Moran flair over the wall. Hunting is all about family, and going well were Tom Hanrahan and young Paudie who gave a great display. Another good performance was put in by Caoimhe Gammel and Ella Shanahan on their cobs. Likewise, the Cahill duo of young Patrick and his sister Roisin.

Mother and son combination of farm consultant Ann Cregan, on her bay cob, and young Dylan, at the mature age of seven, took it with enthusiasm. However Dylan’s pony pecked on landing and popped the gallant jockey out of the plate. Quick as a flash, he was on his feet, got legged back up and, with a broad smile, was ready for his photo, with mother having regained her composure, and the pair made a grand photo. They were closely followed by dad James, with young Jessica, aged four, on a lead rein. Jockey wisely dismounted as the pony was conveyed over the wall, only to remount at the far side.

Up for the challenge

Meanwhile, hounds were drawing on through Ivan’s winterage which almost immediately yielded up a fine dog fox which set his mask for Cregan’s gallops and schooling grounds with innumerable schooling fences, not to mention some of the best walls on offer in west Limerick.

He lingered just long enough to give the field a chance for a school before moving on through Foley’s where Reynard was joined by at least a brace and a half of close relations, so, with hounds hunting in all directions, the hound music was mighty.

Being near the main road, the two road whips came into play, our huntsman’s brother Conor Cross and Stephen Byrnes who made sure everything was okay. At this stage, duty called for David Trant who had to leave to get his own pack ready for their opening meet on Sunday in Moyvane.

From memory the second draw across the main road in former huntsman John Finucane’s farm in Ballyengland is always worth waiting for and Saturday was no exception.

There is a huge block of land as John farms both his own and uncle Michael and Peggy O’Shaughnessy’s. An intensive dairy farm but one with a difference as all the walls have a jumping spot strategically built in so the field can cross at speed.

Happy field

Like all proper sporting farms, it hosts a good fox covert. It was Jamie’s favourite hound, a red harrier called Tango, who opened and the pack rallied to him. Our pilot was seen slipping away towards Braddishe’s and on through Connells’, Fitzgerald’s, before being marked to ground in Downes’.

The pace was fast and the jumping challenging and so when it mattered, it was easy to count the finishers. Among those who were there to hear Jamie blow ‘Gone to Ground’ were his girlfriend Selina Braddish, who is currently studying for her PhD. Also in the frame were Mark Siney, farrier Rory Brennan, Mark Boyce and father and son team of Paudie and Tom Hanrahan.

It was a very satisfactory end to a good day and a very happy field (or what was left of them) hacked back to their boxes.