DESPITE the weather, the Galway farmers welcomed the hunt onto their land. But the followers were appreciative, as they rode along the headlands to minimise any damage, and the wall builders brought up the rear, as the great former master and huntsman of the East Galway Foxhounds Michael Higgens used to say, ‘Putting the country back together’.

Craughwell is the spiritual home of the Blazers with the kennels just up the road. The hunt has a modern structure, with a gender balance in the mastership, three females to two males that most organisations are still striving for.

They have a huge focus on younger members that will be the future of the hunt, showing they have a succession plan as well. I understand membership is closed with a waiting list. Since last season, former master and huntsman Michael Dempsey sadly passed away at the age of 98 years.

Horse Producers

There is a great tradition of producing horses for sale in the Blazers’ hunt country. But in recent years, it has never been so strong, with William McMahon and Grace Maxwell Murphy winning the Supreme Hunter Championship of the Dublin Horse Show in 2022 with Gleann Rua Da Vinci, followed in 2023 by the Connemara Ridden Champion Glencarrig Douvan ridden by Grace, with William showing the Irish Draught Stallion Champion, Edenagore Star.

William was riding a smashing steel grey Irish Draught by Cappa Casanova on the day. Tom McNamara of Horses in Ireland and his daughter, Maria, have made the Shanbally prefix a top brand worldwide with hunters, eventers and show horses. A recent graduate, Shanbally Legacy won last year at the Horse of the Year Show.

Maeve Carty of Birchill Stables offers top class horses for sale and, together with her sister, Nicola, Amory McMahon, Grace Maxwell Murphy, Maria McNamara and Marilyn Bane, are all top show riders and exponents of riding side saddle.

It was refreshing to see Hollypark Horses and former National Show jumping Champion and National Grand Prix Champion Tim MacDonagh filling in for the moment as honorary whipper-in and he crosses country with ease.

We saw later the production line that is Hollypark Horses, when their truck parked at Ballymana Church with immaculately turned out second horses for Tim and all his work riders. As Tim’s father and Blazers’ joint-master Michael says, ‘We use the hunting field to polish the young horses’. Their policy is ’Breeding, Producing and Selling’.

The young horses get to hack on the roads when the hounds are getting fit, followed by autumn hunting, and the brood mares spend their leisurely hours in the out farm in the Burren in County Clare, which is known for its rare flora and fauna on a diet that is not available anywhere else in Ireland. Bill Bourns was also at the meet and has an amazing record at the Dublin Horse Show as a cob producer.

And the Blazers’ hunting field has produced its share of jockeys, including 17-year-old Danny Gilligan, a son of trainer Paul and Natalie, described as a teenage sensation who won the 2023 Galway Plate on home soil for trainer Gordon Elliott aboard Ash Tree Meadow.

Another link with the past is Blazers’ countryman, Mickey Shaughnessy, and he has a story to tell also. Show jumping in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Mickey owned and campaigned a Connemara Pony by the name of Obliging Tommy that was by a son of Little Heaven, a thoroughbred who sired Tommy Wade’s famous international show jumper Dundrum and out of a Connemara mare by Carna Dun. The pony was a prolific winner, even beating Tommy and Dundrum in the Champion Stone Wall on many occasions. One of the progeny Westside Myrah was a stallion champion and ended his days with Mickey.

Joint master Michael MacDonagh with honorary whipper in Tim MacDonagh and huntsman Anthony Costello at the Galway Blazers meet in Craughwell \ Noel Mullins

Next generation

It was encouraging to see the next generation of hunt followers out in force in Craughwell. Molly Shields, whose father Vincent Jr was master of the West Carberry, made famous in the writings of Somerville and Ross. Her grandfather Vincent Sr was master of the Blazers, East Galway Foxhounds and the Roscommon Harriers.

The last time I saw Molly hunting she was on a lead rein, but now she has joined the grown-ups! Other young followers well able to ride the double stone walls were Clodagh McDonagh, Cillian Considine, Emma Geoghegan, Rachel McAlinden, Alayna, Tim and Ben Hawkins, Eilish and Grace McCarthy, Laura Kyne, Niamh Brady, Amber Tobin, Katelyn and Lillian Walsh, Millie, James and Adam Costello, Robyn and Aaron Geoghegan, Aishling White, Anne Kelly, Ian, Patrick and Keith Moloney, Harry and Katie Murphy and Sophie Byrnes.

Masters and Huntsman

Joint-master Joanna Hyland is a granddaughter of Lady Molly Cusack Smith, who hunted the Blazers. Fellow joint-master Michael MacDonagh was also a former master of the County Limerick Foxhounds.

Huntsman Anthony Costello has hunting on his blood, as his father, James, hunted the County Clare Hounds and the Sligo Harriers and his uncle, John Willie, hunted the North Galway. I remember Anthony, a very popular huntsman, whipping-in to his father when he was a teenager in County Clare, and he was also a consistent producer of point-to-pointers and rode a number of winners in his day. His children, Millie and James, were hunting also. Local farmer Martin Moran, a keen hunt follower who hunts a smashing grey Irish Draught, has been a great assistance to Anthony, and field master Johnny Geoghegan had 20 horses out.

Others following were former master David McCarty, Sophie Byrne, Adam Costello, Helena Lambert, Brandon Keeny, Andrew Coonan, Liam Brew, Damien O’Neill, Brian Geoghegan, marathon runner Frank Byrnes, Cyril Carty, Bill Bournes, chairman Mike McDonagh, Mike Carty, photographer Alan Leonard, Margaret Geoghegan and past followers, Pat O’Neill and Gerry Nevin.


The huntsman settled the pack on the bridge over the Dunkellen River that flows into Rahasane Turlough, the largest remaining wetland in Europe, also known as a karst lake that has no surface outlet. The first draw was off the Ballymana Road in The Senators Covert and a brace were on the move, but after hunting in the covert, they both went underground. Hounds were on song again finding in Thomas Geoghegan’s and this customer knew his territory and sought escape in a big pile of stones.

Another brace were moving in J.P. Walsh’s with one circling back and to ground. A ‘hollor’ by Pat O’Neill signalled the other fox was game for a run and the huntsman picked up the pack, jumping a wall into Fiona King’s with hounds flying. Honorary whipper-in Tim MacDonagh showed his class when jumping the wall - he was looking right, tracking the pack trusting his hunter, demonstrating why he was National Show jumping Champion.

This fox swung right, running low in the shadow of the walls back into Walsh’s and then crossing the Ballymana Road into Finnegan’s and left-handed behind Ballymana Church into Niall McGuinness’ and to ground. Beyond lay the big double walls of Roxborough, birthplace of Lady Gregory in 1852, co-founder with W.B. Yeats and Edward Martyn of the Abbey Theatre.

Her cousin, Burton Persse of Moyode, was master and huntsman of the Blazers for 33 seasons. I had his hunting horn, but it went missing from my car at a meet some years ago at Carnmore Cross. It is inscribed with his name and the date of his mastership, if anybody knows where it is?

The followers on the Hill of Seefinn had a grandstand view, where Anthony O’Daly was hanged from the shafts of a cart in 1820 for attempted murder. It was considered that O’Daly was innocent and, since then, the marks of the shafts have remained in the ground! Meanwhile, Michael Brennan’s covert was blank, but they found in Molly Shaughnessey’s and he ran left-handed for Mrs Kearns over Molloy’s, with Linkman the lead hound twisting and turning accurately on the line. Another fox in Connolly’s took them right and back into Michael Brennan’s, Fiona King’s marking to ground in J.P. Walsh’s during another downpour of rain, as the huntsman blew for home.

The Blazers’ followers were fortunate to be hunting on the day with the wet conditions, as without all the great work done behind the scenes by the huntsman and his team, none of it would be possible and particularly the goodwill of a supportive farming community.