FORMER joint master of the Meath Foxhounds and current joint master of the Lakeland Foot Beagles, Jan Farrell rolled out the red carpet for her lawn meet with her husband Anthony at their farm at Crossakiel. There was a great buzz, as followers of the Meath, Ballymacad, Tara Harriers and Westmeaths turned out in their numbers, including many former Meath hunt committee members. Unfortunately, Peter Downes of Russellstown Stud and the owner of the former Russellstown Beagles, now sadly disbanded, was unable to be there and he was missed.

In passing, the huntsman’s father John Bonham mentioned that his son was wearing Peter Downes’ hunting jacket, which I then recognised, as I also wore it when I hunted Peter’s pack in the 1980s. It was in great shape and, talking about shape, I have to admit that I would not fit into it now! You know hunting attire is well-known to last many generations. I remember attending Mr Stewart’s Cheshire Hounds Centenary Hunt Ball a number of years ago in Pennsylvania, when joint master Russell Jones (who has horses in training with Jessica Harrington) asked me where I got my hunt ball tails. I replied from my late uncle Brendan. He asked the same question to my nephew Ivan Dowling, who was hunting the Cheshire pack at the time, and he said they were Mr Phil Fanning’s, who won the Maryland Hunt Cup on Ned’s Flying and his daughter Joy Slater was the first woman to win the race, which she did three times on Can Cottage trained by her mother Jill. I asked Russell, who also rode the winner of the Maryland Hunt Cup on Jacko, where he got his and he said they were his grandfather’s. Then he summed it up by saying, ‘Isn’t it great, we pass on, but the tails continue to party’!

Anyway, back to Jan Farrell’s spread of refreshments, all types of sandwiches, fruit cake and Catholic and Protestant oven-baked sausages. What’s the difference? Well, Ethel Galligan and Amanda Bonham enlightened me, explaining that Protestant sausages have an added honey and mustard glaze, while the Catholic sausages are plain!


Enjoying the hospitality were the chairman of Eventing Ireland Nikki Potterton, whose father David was chairman of the Meath Hunt, eventing and show rider Jill Revill, who left the radio on in her jeep for her dogs, Andrew Bonham, Paul Nolan, Ethel Galligan, whose father Aidan whipped in to the Meaths and her children Hollie and Harry, John Flood, Mark and Glenda Barry, Rita Dunne, Gene Briscoe, Sheelan Wilson, Geoffrey, Poppy and Sam Frawley, Sally Moorehead, Majella and Fiona Dillon, Tommy and Breda Lynch, Mary and Eddie Dillon, Noel and Cait Finnegan, Nobby Halpin, Dessie Flynn and Richard and Kay Nolan. Young Charles Fox had his jodhpurs on and was carrying a hunting whip, certainly a huntsman of the future.

Richard Bonham, the huntsman, is one of the best young huntsmen I have seen in action in recent years, and his whipper-in on the day, Conor Keogan was in the right place wide on point all day. He has a smashing pack of beagles that trust him and he has a very gentle way of handling them, which is evident when you see the control he has - which is not always easy with lively beagles. But then his grandfather and his father John hunted with the Ballymacad Foxhounds for 40 years and his mother Amanda hunted with the Meath Foxhounds. Richard’s wife Jennifer Diamond many will remember from her days working for Horse Sport Ireland.

The pack are mainly home-bred with foundation bloodlines of Eton College, Woodrock and Blackwater Valley, Park, Britannia and North Warwickshire. Although Richard won the Best Two Couple of Unentered Doghounds and the Bitch Championships, as well as the Brood Bitch Championship at Stradbally National Hound Show, he claimed a major championship that few Irish packs have done before at the prestigious 120th Rydal Hound Show in Cumbria in the Lake District during the Summer, when Twinkle won the Brood Bitch Championship. I hunted with one of the Cumbrian greats, Barry Todhunter, huntsman of the Blencathra some years ago in the Cumbrian Fells and they are recognised as some of the greatest experts on hounds in the world, so it is a major challenge to win any class there. It was at the nearby Calbeck Inn that John Woodcock Graves 1795-1886 wrote the hunting song ‘D’Ye ken John Peel’, in celebration of his friend and huntsman. Graves emigrated to Tasmania and the original document, which I was privileged to handle, resides in a library in the USA.

Although I hunted for most of my years whipping in and hunting hounds mounted with the Fingal Harriers, I have to admit that I got as much enjoyment hunting on foot, as I did when I hunted both the Russellstown and the Goldburn Beagles in the past. You are closer to hounds and they are not intimidated by horses and sometimes careless riders, but you have to be fit!

Huntsman Richard Bonham and his wife Jennifer with Lakeland Foot Beagle Twinkle, winner of The Best Brood Bitch at Rydal Hound Show in Cumbria \ Noel Mullins


Meanwhile, huntsman Richard Bonham had 13 and a half couple of hounds out, including three couple of pups. The onerous task of collecting cap fell to Glenda Barry. They have had many really good days, especially Rathconrath and Ballinacarrigy, organised by Martin Heduvan. Richard has a smashing athletic and sharp pack, a pleasure to see when he cast them wide across the road into Joe McCullogh’s onto the high ground. Followers were dotted on drumlin tops with a 360-degree view of the countryside, including the Hill of Loughcrew with the 5,000-year-old passage grave on the top, which I am sure has seen many packs cross in all those years, as hare hunting on foot is that old in Ireland.

Hounds opened and ran on and circled right-handed in a huge field with wet spots in low-lying areas, followed by a smashing crescendo from the pack, as only beagles can, followed by a check. We had a great view as they got on what appeared to be a fox, but scent was patchy and they found it difficult to hold the line.

Standing high on a drumlin, Rita Dunne reminded me that, at that very time, many parents would be trying not to lose their children around busy shopping centres, buying items they did not need and for people that did not want them, while families out beagling were in the clean air watching the wonders of nature unfold.

We could see Norman Allen’s Knockrath Stud in the distance. Many remember when he won the Supreme Hunter Championship at the Dublin Horse Show on Sugar Bob in 2012. The huntsman lifted the pack and moved on across the road into David Drumm’s and cast them along the side of Farrell’s Wood. Hounds had another up and running and she swung right into the wood for some terrific woodland hunting, where you get the best from a united pack on song. Leddy’s was next and, although hounds covered the ground well, darkness was setting in, so the huntsman blew for home after a wonderful day’s hunting following a skilful huntsman and a pack that can really perform.

Back at the meet, Jan Farrell had a big pot of soup and brown bread ready, and all sorts of goodies, including those Catholic and Protestant sausages! But some, including John Flood, were back early to watch racing from Fairyhouse and dining at their leisure.

This beats any gym subscription that you may be planning to take out in the New Year. Following beagles, you will make loads of friends, keep healthy and learn about the history of Ancient Ireland at the same time. Visitors are welcome by arrangement, and the hunt is child-friendly, not just for adults.


The Lakeland Foot Beagles were founded in 2018, hunting the country previously hunted by the Balgarrett Foot Beagles and the Westmeath Foot Beagles.


Masters – Jan Farrell MFB, Ion Hamilton MFB, Marion Mortell MFB and Kieran Lambert MFB (Honorary)

Huntsman – Richard Bonham

Whippers-In – Conor Keogan, John Casserly

Honorary Secretary – Jennifer Diamond Bonham and Terry Whyte