HOW do I sum up my day with the Ballymacad Foxhounds at Oldcastle? Well, I saw little, but I heard plenty. Now isn’t that what brings all lovers of hounds and hound work out day after day in hail, rain and snow and we follow it all by listening to the direction hounds are running, together with the huntsman blowing all the correct calls on the hunting horn.

The Ballymacad huntsman, Kevin Donohoe is at the top of his profession, celebrating his 25th season hunting the pack, which his father and three uncles did for nearly a century before him. He admits that it was his best opening meet in 25 years, as hounds screamed through this ancient countryside all day long. Donohoe is a hound breeder of note, winning plenty in the show ring, but he breeds hounds with a huge emphasis on voice. But this does not happen by chance, as many of the young hounds would have been shown at hound shows during the summer, getting them used to sights and sounds and this was followed by 25 mornings autumn hunting in bogs and woodland, getting them used to stock and various obstacles and improving the fitness of the hunt staff. Followers often cannot tell the pups from the seasoned hounds at the opening meet!

Donohoe Sport Horses is a go to destination for customers looking for made hunters and eventers, as Kevin buys them as three-year-olds, breaks them and lets them off for the summer and gets them back for autumn hunting. Each morning, they are ridden by good riders like Colin Hawden, who school them over every conceivable obstacle so that they are nearly made by the hunting season.

The Ballymacad team is made up of the four masters, Garry O’Neill, Michael Bevan, Martin Farrell and Brendan Cosgrove. Huntsman Kevin Donohoe has two seasoned whippers-in, Bobby Kellett (27 seasons) and Maurice Quinn (20 seasons), and in the kennels Alan Keogan. But they are backed up by Eileen Farrelly, the honorary treasurer, and Rachel Gilsenan, the honorary secretary, whose phone never stops ringing and whose grandfather Kit Gilsenan worked all his life in the kennels, whipping-in and collecting fallen stock for the knackery.

Ciara O'Neill and Kate Hyland at the Ballymacad Foxhounds meet at Oldcastle \ Noel Mullins

The Ballymacad Hunt followers have always been ahead on innovation and ideas, but as well they are deeply ingrained in the community, so they are welcome in all the towns and villages and are an important link to both the past and present and of the social fabric.

Over the years, they have raised hundreds of thousands of euros for deserving causes like Meals on Wheels, schools, Down’s Syndrome, community centres, Tidy Towns, Ukraine, the Hospice and GAA clubs. Recently, the hunt followers raised €26,000 towards cancer trials in memory of one of their most popular members, Cathryn Gibney, a really charming lady who unfortunately passed away last year. But she held on for the closing meet and the Irish and Aintree Grand Nationals as she loved her racing. Planning her funeral service, Canon Gallagher asked her what time she would like the service and Cathryn, still remarkably retaining her sense of humour, replied ‘Don’t worry about me, I will not be there anyway’! Recently, they had a big night in The Headford Arms Hotel in Kells for their Auction of Promises, with items such as sales vetting, straw bales, Galway Races tickets, Dublin Horse Show tickets and Mews accommodation, and even the young followers Aoibhinn, Brianna, and Sarah offered tack cleaning service vouchers.


Kevin Donohoe huntsman of the Ballymacad Foxhounds and whipper in Maurice Quinn at the Oldcastle meet \ Noel Mullins

The meet was at Garry and Linda O’Neill’s Fincourt Bar and Restaurant in Oldcastle, where you can have breakfast for just over €10. They were busy tidying after a packed pub the night before for pizza and cocktails. Ciara O’Neill, who runs her own business, got some bar work done before changing into her hunting attire to join her father Garry, who is a joint-master. Garry and his wife Linda were back from the Rugby World Cup in Paris, where they spent the evenings sidestepping all the Irish supporters’ drop goals, as apparently there were rugby balls flying everywhere all night. The Irish certainly know how to party.

The future of hunting is in encouraging more young people to get involved and, between all the hunt activities, shows, non-jumping days, the Ballymacads have a significant numbers of 10 to 16-year-olds who love their hunting, are well mounted and can really cross this challenging country. All the masters were hunting, Michael Bevan, Garry O’Neill, Brendan Cosgrove and Martin Farrell, but we missed former master Thosh Kellett, who was unavoidably absent, but I was talking to him this week and he is back in action.

Also out was the chairman Ken Farrelly, field master Paul Keogan, Thady Lynch, son of former master of the Westmeaths Finian Lynch, Gael Jauvert, Nollag Healy, the huntsman’s wife Joanne and daughter Aoibhinn on a smashing sensible cob, and her pals Katie, Charlene and Lilly Murray, Kate Hyland, Ryan Quinn and Noah and Noel Masterson.

Following also were Nobby Halpin, former field master Philip Sheridan, Martin Smith from the Westmeaths, whose father John and brother Eamonn hunted the pack. Liz Rosario, former master of the Balgarrett Beagles, had her grandchildren, James and Sean Casey, out after a hearty breakfast, Sinead Hyland, Adel Masterson and her seven-year-old daughter Pippa, Catz Moore had former jockey Chris Mooney on her young horse.

Mrs Patricia Nicholson, 90 plus years, and recently looking at hunters, was following too. She has bred top eventers for World Champion event rider Bruce Davidson like Eagle Lion and Pirate Lion. She also bred Dermot Weld’s first winner, and her son-in-law Eddie Macken’s Carrols Royal Lion and Peter Charles’ Stream Lion. Another top owner and producer following was Miriam Cunning, who owned and bred the Sarah Ennis-ridden Sugar Brown Babe and has a possible star of the future with Sarah and another with Nicholas Butler. There was also a man only married three days following, but I don’t think it would be fair to mention his name in print! John Bonham, whose son Richard is master and huntsman of the Lakeland Foot Beagles, was also following.


Hunt staff and followers moved off from the Naper Arms Hotel with 13 and a half couple of hounds to the first draw off the Mount Nugent Road in Glenboy Lane, where hounds found immediately in the Old Dump, and this customer ran for three fields and went to ground. Moving quickly on, the pack found again in Kathleen Boylan’s and coursed him straight and eventually marked.

They moved back again into Kathleen Boylan’s and hit on a line, at first working slowly into chairman Ken Farrelly’s farm through Foster’s Covert, setting his sights over John Callagan’s, and before he got to the outskirts of Oldcastle parallel to the Mount Nugent Road, he turned back sharply and ran through the covert again, where the pack marked him to ground in Jim McGuire’s off the Ballyjamesduff Road after a 30 minute run. There were empty saddles everywhere with deep drains claiming a number.

Even though the going was heavy, the huntsman wasted no time, and hounds were on song again finding in Cruxty and, after a few circular runs, he left a couple of times then on towards the Oldcastle Dump, where they marked him on the Dump Lane after a cracking run of 45 minutes. By now, the soft going was taking its toll, as the followers had more than enough of jumping every conceivable obstacle, drains, stone walls, banks and everything in between, with three followers coming off in succession at one dirty drain, so the huntsman blew for home.

It was a good job the hunt ball was not on that night, as there were plenty of bloodied faces, one in particular was joint-master Garry O’Neill, who needed the hunting doctor to apply a series of strip stitches to his closed eye. One comment from a fellow master was that he would only see half the rugby match that evening!

The Fincourt came up trumps again with welcome refreshments for the followers after a great start to the season.

History of the Hunt

The Sherborne family formed a pack in 1735. Following on in 1797, the Ballymacad Foxhounds were founded and in 1826 the pack were kennelled at Loughcrew.


Chairman - Ken Farrelly

Masters - Brendan Cosgrove, Garry O’Neill, Martin Farrell and Michael Bevan

Huntsman - Kevin Donohoe

Whipper-in - Maurice Quinn and Bobby Kellett

Field Master - Paul Keogan and Ken Farrelly

Honorary Secretary - Rachel Gilsenan

Honorary Treasurer - Eileen Farrelly

Countryman - Alan Keogan