WHAT a historic place Punchestown Racecourse is, with all 500 acres owned by The Kildare Hunt Club. This is horse breeding country with the Irish National Stud just down the road, together with 115 more stud farms in the county. Many legendary horses have raced there over the years. While some of the cream of bloodstock stand in the many stud farms in the county I will just mention two horses that were bred on the boundary of the racecourse. Millhouse, ridden by Willie Robinson, bred by the Lalor family that had so many close calls against the mighty Arkle (bred by Kathleen Baker in North County Dublin) and ridden by Pat Taaffe, both jockeys natives of Kildare.

ESB was also bred beside the course by Sheila Burke that won the Aintree Grand National ridden by Dave Dick. I had the pleasure myself of owning a share in a chaser that ran at Punchestown some years ago by the well known National Hunt sire Supreme Leader. Berney Brothers Saddlery is in nearby Kilcullen and Tom was hunting on the day, and Tuttys well-known for hand-made riding boots and shoes are a stones thrown from the racecourse in Naas. The trainer of Frankel, Henry Cecil, had his signatory purple shoes made by Tuttys. Punchestown also hosts a point-to-point, the Irish Draught Show and the Huntsman’s Challenge to determine the best hunting horse sponsored by Berney Brothers. Both Hazel Valentine and Tom Berney made an excellent promotional film on the course.


I remember former Kildare joint-master Charlie O’Neill telling me that he was the only person to play the spoons with the Rolling Stones! Band member Ronnie Woods has a house in Kildare and was a pal of Charlie’s and gave him a painting every year for his Beaumont Hospital fund raiser. I took part with a friend of mine Dominick Coonan whose father bred Team Spirit, the winner of the Aintree Grand National in the first revival of the 1752 steeple to steeple chase, from the steeple in Clane to the steeple in Maynooth. It was like the Charge of the Light Brigade with Charlie in a night shirt over his hunting attire acting as starter blowing the hunting horn. The first obstacle was a sheet of galvanise and the noise from horses hitting it was deafening and as the day went on there were riders and loose horses scattered everywhere.

Great turnout

The weather held up initially for the Kildare Foxhounds meet, but rain followed shortly afterwards, but it did not affect the great turnout at what is known as The H-Block Stables where there was a fine spread of refreshments. Honorary secretary John Dillon was as usual looking very dapper knee deep in paperwork while seeing everyone was looked after with his unique style and panache. It was great to meet up again with Ned and Dell Cash,extraordinary judges of a horse, whose family members all hunted with the Kildares.

The chairman of The Agricultural Trust Matt Dempsey at the Kildare Foxhounds meet at Punchestown \ Noel Mullins

Hunt Staff

Just to illustrate the hunt staff attention to detail when I called to the kennels some of the hunt staff had gone into Naas for talcum powder for their hunting boots!

Padhraic Moynihan, the huntsman, told me that he took a busman’s tour of the Virginia hunt country in the USA where Graham Buston, former County Limerick huntsman, is hunting the Blue Ridge Hounds. It’s an area I had the pleasure of spending four months in a few years ago when I was working on the manuscripts of those great Irish writers Somerville and Ross in Middleburg. The police patrol cars have a fox as their motif. Charlie Vose is the professional whipper-in and he had the assistance of Bobby Cope, a grandson of former master Richard Cope. Charlie’s grandmother, Maggie, was at the meet and his sister, Olivia, was hunting in Ireland for the first time. The team is completed by countrymen Kieran Peters and Wesley Cole.


The first person I met was Michelle Lucey who had two Irish Draught Horses in the box, one by Elm Hill, and a four-year old Bouncers Son by Moylough Bouncer that was fourth in Dublin during the summer. Also at the meet was Martina Dempsey who won the Corinthian Challenge on Fair Damsel at the Curragh Racecourse in May, and was second on the same horse at Leopardstown, trained by Richard Brabazon. It was a great achievement by Martina who rides out for Richard and used to ride out for the late Frank Ennis. She also works on the Godolphin Flying Start Programme.

David Mongey, the chairman of the Kildare Hunt Club and a generous sponsor of racing at Punchestown and Naas, was at the meet with his wife, Attracta. Others following were Mary White, Fergal O’Neill, Oliver Ryan, John Cahill, point-to-point secretary Richard Wixsted, Hazel Valentine, field master David Valentine, Niamh Cullhane, Andrew Perrin, Tom Berney of Berney Bros, Phil Heavey, Alan Jordan and James Flood.

Matt Dempsey the chairman of The Agricultural Trust which owns The Irish Field was riding his smashing heavyweight hunter, and Una Houlihan was hunting with her husband and honorary treasurer Simon. Amongst the large following was Moya Kelly, Mark Houlihan, Thomas Dempsey, Ryan Connolly and his son Jack.

Leading flat jockey Rory Cleary was hunting with his daughter Orla, also Alan McParland, whose father Ronan was a former Kildare master, and Richard Sutton. Billy Flood seems to hunt most days of the week as I met him recently hunting with the South County Dublin Harriers and is a great man to organise hunt country, and he crosses it with flair and is always on good horses. Straight from a Pony Club rally was six-year-old Michael Byrne on his pony Tiggy. At the meet also were Rosie Rouse, Holly Blake, Sinead Killally, and Mr Kerr’s Beagles master Paul Kerr and whipper-in Des Bell. Also former Commanding Officer of the Irish Army Equitation School, Lt Col Gerry O’Gorman, Nick MacDermott, Caroline O’Gorman and son James, Albert Tomkins and his son Al, Joe Clifford, Alex Lalor and Eileen Cole.

Big wave from Billy Flood moving off at the Kildare Foxhounds meet at Punchestown \ Noel Mullins


The huntsman moved off with 15 and a half couple of hounds and 72 followers for what was to become one of the best starts to the season.

The first draw was across the road through de Robecks’ where hounds found quickly in the wood along Swordlestown Stud, previously owned by Ryanair founder Tony Ryan. This customer ran back in a circle through Quinns and down the Railway Line to the back of the Killashee Hotel and returned again to Swordlestown in another circle before they marked him in a drain in a run that lasted in all for about an hour.

The next draw was Hazel and David Valentine’s, the latter who was field master, and the pack were on song again finding in the covert. This fellow was reluctant to leave and was content to run in circles around the covert and eventually sought refuge underground. Meanwhile a number of the followers had a problem at a deep drain with a nasty drop and a gate which claimed quite a few riders.

The huntsman had to work hard at Lalor’s Kennel Wood as this fellow did lap after lap before he eventually left, crossing the Glider Club Grounds and then over the Ballymore Eustace Road and back to de Robecks’ where in the meantime a double of gates and another gate onto the road had to be negotiated, and the frontrunners were not waiting for those left behind. They eventually marked him to ground after a fast run.

Lalor’s Farmyard is always a sure find as foxes seem to enjoy the bill of fayre and sure enough there was one at home. This fellow headed for the Blackhills which is at the back of the racecourse. But more fresh foxes were causing the pack to split, and as they say ‘too many foxes is almost worse than too few’. When the huntsman got them all back on with horses tiring he decided wisely to blow for home.

This was great start to the season and augers well for what lies ahead.