WHAT a great community atmosphere there was in the Iveagh Foxhounds kennels, as it seemed that the whole countryside turned up. A table was set up in one of the outbuildings and people brought bottles, sandwiches, cakes and boxes of chocolates. But the mulled wine took centre stage – the jumping juice that works miracles when the riders get mounted.

There is something special about the hunt, as it is such an important hub for men, women and children to meet, greet and renew old friendships and make new ones. It is completely underestimated the role the hunt plays in rural life that can often be so isolating. And the hunt knackery that keeps the countryside and the environment clean of fallen stock is another year-round format for farmers to meet, even if it is in circumstances where they have lost stock and consequently much-needed income. That is the downside of farming, especially in this area that has so many dairy herds.

Mourne Mountains

The sun was shining on the slopes of the Mourne Mountains as I crossed into Northern Ireland. I recalled the song, The Mountains of Mourne composed by Percy French, as he sat on a seat beside the sea near my home in Skerries. I stopped at a local housing estate and asked two locals if I was on the right road to the hunt kennels and if they were flying all the flags knowing I was coming up from the South. One man replied, ‘Don’t they look well’, and I had to agree they were colourful anyway, and then he asked if I brought a bottle of whiskey as they would see me later at the hunt!


The kennel yard was bustling with followers and great banter and laughter, sharing all the news since they last met. Former master Sarah Dawson has new stables near the Curragh in addition to her base in Banbridge, which should attract more owners for her mixed yard, allowing her to use the facilities on the Curragh and campaign her flat horses from there. Joint-masters Alexander Mills and Brian McClory were ready for the day and well mounted. I remember some years ago when John Porter was hunting the pack. Former master Ronnie Duke took me down to a big hedge. John sailed over followed by 14-year-old Ruth Black, who is now Ruth Morrison, the Assistant Manager of Downpatrick Racecourse – one of the oldest tracks in Ireland, hosting its first race in 1685.

Ruth’s loss to eventing and show jumping was Downpatrick Racecourse’s gain. She had a bright future ahead, even possibly at international level, if all the good horses that she made were not sold on.

Former honorary secretary Faith Cromie was hunting with her father and hunt chairman, George, accompanied by her sons, George Jr (two-and-a half) and James (six months). She was hunting her sturdy black mare, while her father, George, was on his 24-year-old hunter, as Neil Keary hunted George’s other chesnut hunter. Former master Bob Wilson was following, as was Charlie McPoland, who has purchased a new horse in Galway, a place he visits and hunts regularly and has many friends there.

Others hunting were Gary Porter, Andrew Phillips, joint- master of the Tynan and Armagh, and his daughters Beth and Alex and son Samuel, Tommy Moore – whose daughter Rachel has been a frequent winner at the Dublin Horse Show, winning Reserve Champion in the Working Hunter in 2022, as well as Reserve Champion in the Small Hunter. They produce a lot of four-year-olds for shows and sale. Michael and Sandra McGriffin were on two smashing well turned out hunters with matching red numnahs.

Honorary secretary Darren McClory was out, as was former whipper-in Ally Watson and his son James, as well as Mark, Matthew and Lee Chapman, Carolyn Campbell, Aidy Martin, Peter Callan, Zara McAlease, Robbie Gaul, former field master John Harvey, Liz Mackie, Robbie McCracken, honorary treasurer David Rance, Liz McDonnell, Gary Hyland, Belinda McFurness, Beth Woods Armstrong, Finbar Kelly, Peter Callaghan, Patrick Grinter, William Murphy, Chris McDowell, Alison Murray on a first season 16.2hh hunter and daughter Ailie, Emily Duncan on a coloured cob, Rebecca McAdam, Ronan McClory, Beth Patterson and Fiona Wilson.

Joint master Alexander Mills and Samuel and Alex Phillips at the Iveagh Foxhounds meet at the Kennels \ Noel Mullins


The Iveagh huntsman George Barrett, who was riding joint-master Alexander Mills’ hunter Rocky, has all the right credentials to hunt hounds, having served his time with The Crawley and Horsham, the Kildares, Kilkennys and huntsman of the Carlow Farmers for three seasons. His sister Marie and his father George Sr, who is a life-long follower of the Kildare Foxhounds and the Carlow Farmers, were following. George’s wife Belinda was hunting, while Marie and George Sr looked after two-year-old Lilly. Belinda was hunting her big grey hunter Sailor, who loves his hunting but has only one eye. I asked how she hunted him and she replied, ‘carefully’!

George got draft hounds from Scotland and he was very complimentary about Kevin Donohoe, huntsman of the Ballymacads, and Garry Kelly, huntsman of the Kilkenny Foxhounds, for helping him to put his current pack together. He has a great team with kennel man Jamie Lee McKinstrey, Nathan Dunlop and Mattie Chapman, also former master John Porter, Robbie Gaul and William Murphy.


This is spectacular countryside to follow hounds, as it is a series of hills and valleys, with bogs and dry furze and an abundance of vantage points. The day was to produce a flier of a hunt, after the huntsman drew Nesbitt’s first and the valley down to the Kennel Bog. It was easily one of the best runs that I have seen this season on a fox that had the stature of an Alsatian dog, he was that big; one of a brace in the Kennels Bog that were used to being close to hounds. You could say it was payback time, as sometimes you have to sing for your supper, in this case, these two foxes have a larder on site probably feasting nightly in the knackery in the kennels getting fat courtesy of the hunt, so it was only fair that they give the followers a good run. But they knew the area well and never looked stressed. As the brace went away, there was a holler from Gary Hyland sitting on his grey hunter, with one fox setting his mask for the hill and into Walls, while the pack settled on the second fox, who headed for Drew Jamison’s Bog. They soon pushed him through left-handed out the side of the bog, crossing a wide drain and a gate at speed into McClory’s and then the hunt jump into Stevie Sands’ who was hunting.

This fox then slipped into Stevie’s line of furze, but Sapphire, a draft hound from the Duke of Buccleuch in Scotland, was glued to the line. I met Stevie’s sister, Jill McElroy, who told me about hosting the World Sheepdog Championships during the summer, as hounds were hot in pursuit heading for the Old Banbridge to Belfast Railway line and the Ballycross Road. He then turned right-handed for Dromnavaddy Lough, but just before it, he swung right-handed again crossing the road into McAteer’s and right-handed again into Stevie Sands’ and left over Steins Hill.

Hounds were close as he ran on into McKnight’s and parallel to the Ballycross Road and right-handed into Patterson’s coming into sight again coming down the hill, where they marked him to ground after a cracking run. Horses and followers had been pushed to the limit over soft ground, so with little horse left, although the huntsman was keen to go on, it was decided to blow for home at 2.30pm. These foxes were probably dining in the kennels again that night, and who would deny them after they gave such a cracking day’s sport, and they are there for another good day in the future!

It would be difficult to match that run, but apparently they had a few equally good days the following weeks. The Iveagh huntsman and his cracking pack of hounds are on form this season and, as a result, the followers are all in good spirits.