Thomas Pakenham kept a pack at Tullynally Castle from 1735. The first master of the Westmeath Foxhounds was Sam Reynell of Killynon founded in1835.

Hunt Officers

Chairperson - Sonya Kiernan

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

Huntsman - Niall Dunne

Whippers-in - Gary Reilly, Shane Dunne, Derek O’Hara, Bryan Dunne and Graham Dempsey

Road Whipper-In - Jamie Kelleghan

Field Masters - Ken Carroll and James Lowry

Honorary Secretary - Marion Mortell

THE life of a publican involves long hours and Nick Murtagh of Murtagh’s Bar in Ballynacarrigy is an example. When opening his bar for the Westmeath Hunt followers at 10.00am, he had hardly been in bed, as he had a wedding party the previous night finishing after 3.00am, despite the groom being 75 years of age and the bride, well it’s not polite to mention a lady’s age. Suffice to say that pensioners in this area have stamina in more ways than one! Nick’s pub is a gem, with photos of hunts and GAA teams adorning the walls.

There was a great buzz in the bar, as it was the day of the hunt ball in the Bloomfield House Hotel, superbly organised by Hannah McCormack and her team. I was intrigued about field master Ken Carroll’s knowledge of fashion, forecasting the colours of many of the ladies’ dresses. For example, he anticipated that Donna Cleary would be in pink, Triona Fox in blue and Erin Cleary in red, but they remained tight-lipped, not saying if his forecast was accurate or not! It was great to see the new addition to the huntsman Niall Dunne and his wife Kitty’s family in Arthur, a brother to Jasmine, who loves walking hounds. I am grateful to David Geoghegan, Donna Cleary and Seamus Carroll, who got me to all the right places.

Hunt staff and team

The hunt is run very professionally, well organised with a huntsman, hunt staff and a pack of superb hounds to match. Horses look a picture, followers are well mounted, as many are in the business of producing thoroughbred and sport horses. And the Westmeath hunting field prepares them well for their careers later in many parts of the world, making them great reputational ambassadors for Irish horses abroad. Many followers echoed the same sentiments that this has been one of their best seasons on record, and the day I visited was a cracker as well. Another commented that, ‘You would need to be at the meet the night before to stay with the huntsman he crosses this difficult country so easily’! Remarkably, the huntsman never touched (interfered with) the pack all day, except to stop them running into extensive woodland.

Huntsman Niall Dunne is at the top of his game and has a great team, both mounted and on the ground. This includes the masters Anne Derwin, Cyril O’Hara riding a smashing Irish Draught by Castana, Helen Moorehead and Jim Derwin, field masters Ken Condon and former huntsman James Lowry, professional whipper-in Gary Reilly, Niall’s father, Bryan, and brother, Shane, as well as Derek O’Hara and Graham Dempsey. What is equally impressive is the team on the ground, as witnessed when five quads arrived with seasoned followers Kevin McGuire, Richard and Christopher King, Darragh Lambe, Mark Riggs (both of whom ride out for Kieran Murphy’s Charlestown Racing), Alan Summersgill and Larry Lyons. John Flood also played his part, having run out of horses this season, as he drove Mark Riggs around all day to do the fencing.

Hound breeding

Niall Dunne is always looking for perfection in his hunting hounds, while taking a significant number of rosettes in the show ring at The National Hound Show, HANI and the Meath Hound Show. While ring-fencing his Old English pack and retaining the old Westmeath Modern bloodlines, he has been looking to put size into some Old English hounds, as this is big country to cross, unlike the Blazers where they look for a lighter hound for flying the stone walls. He has been conducting a hound breeding experiment, crossing an Old English doghound on a Modern bitch and it has worked really well. Having proved his judgement, he has recently identified a suitable large statured Old English stallion hound that may fit the bill.

Bloodstock breeder Michael Farrell, Bridge House Stud owner, Trevor Badger and Maevis Murray at the Westmeath Foxhounds meet at Murtagh’s Bar in Ballynacarrigy \ Noel Mullins


Trevor Badger, owner of Bridge House Stud, is back this season after fracturing vertebrae. Also at the meet was horse breeder Michael Farrell, Maevis Murray, Rebecca Armitage, P.J. Crowley riding a new hunter, Jill Mangan, Graham Dempsey, Joe Broderick, Aine Broderick, while Helen Keatley was on a smashing steel grey. Others were Kieran Flynn, Theresa Farrell, Erin Cleary, Tatianna Ormiston, Jacinta Fox, Ryan Treacy, Dessie Green also on a new horse, Colin Crowe and former master Caroline Cody. Also, former point-to- point jockey Sean McManus, who is always in the right place.

Also following were Kieran Guinness, Sinead Lowry, Colette Keogh, Derek and Ciara Allen, Hannah McCormack and Aoife McCormack. It was great to see Peter Gallagher, who is over four score and ten years, who whipped in to the Westmeath Harriers huntsman Hugh Kerrigan.


Chairman of Eventing Ireland, Nikki Potterton is enjoying his visits to the Westmeaths. Also visiting was veterinarian and show horse producer Diarmuid Ryan, who hopes to match his RDS entry of 11 horses last year this coming August. Diarmuid and Swifty O’Hara from the Fingals were on two smashing Irish Draughts, one by Gortfree Hero and the other by Carrick Cottage Star. Fingals joint-master Michael McGrath was disappointed, as when he unboxed his hunter, he was missing two shoes and had to unfortunately abandon his day, as he would have clocked up hunting with his 33rd pack.


The huntsman moved off on time with 12 and a half couple of a mixed and lively pack into PJ McGuinness’ over very wet ground. Hounds soon had three brace (six foxes) on the move, settling steady on one running left-handed crossing Mollin's and on into Sheridan’s, as the followers had to cross the testing Mill River. They increased the pace up by the tennis courts and on to Trisna. But when the pack checked, the huntsman lifted them rather than hunt on into a large estate with extensive woodland, as he still had a lot of country to get through. This was a sharp 25 minutes and there were lots of casualties in deep drains.

In Frank Evers’ Plantation, a fox had left earlier, as he probably heard the sound of hounds in the distance on the first run, but hounds settled down across Alan Geoghegan’s and over the Mill River again, where many followers got stuck, including field master James Lowry. But, fortunately, some quick thinking by fellow field master Ken Carroll saw Graham Dempsey help James out, completely drenched. But he had a team of people, including Sonya Kiernan and Donna Cleary, who rode the horse back to the meet. Five more people took over, including his daughter, Sinead, and David Geoghegan to help him change into temporary clothes, including a high visibility vest, and offered him something stronger to warm up.

Just proves nobody is left behind in the Westmeaths and James was ‘Tripping the light fantastic’ later that evening at the Hunt Ball. As they say, what a man for one man, and I think he nearly knows already what he will get for Christmas, something inflatable! Meanwhile, the huntsman and his hounds were not hanging about, as they headed into the Plantation beside Sonna Road, where a pack were kennelled from 1802- 1840 called the Sonna Harriers, whose master was Hugh Tuite. As they ran right-handed into the Plantings, there were more fallers at a series of double banks, while the pack double backed and marked to ground after a smashing run.

While the followers recovered, the huntsman hacked up the Sonna Boreen near the late Cecil Ross’ farm, the well-known point-to-point producer, who also organised the Westmeath Point-to-Point. Hounds were on song, as they jumped into Frank Kearney’s and crossed the road into dairy farmer John Corrigan’s in the Bunbrosna country and over point-to-point producer, Paddy Tormey’s farm, where they marked to ground after 35 minutes. Just as the followers thought the huntsman was finishing early for the Hunt Ball, he drew behind Sonna Church and Mrs Preston’s Covert called after former master Caroline Preston, but they were relieved that it was blank.

The Westmeath huntsman and his pack are worth travelling to see in action and, it is heartening to see that they have a strong young following, who adjourned back to Nick Murtagh’s, who had a roaring fire on for those unfortunate enough to ‘Take on Water’!