IT was our third opening meet so far and I’m glad to report that accounts of an early demise of our sport are very far off the mark. Sunday saw us deep in the heart of Tipperary with the Suir Vale Harriers.

The meet was at their spiritual home, the very picturesque village of Drombane, easy hacking distance from their kennels. While the founding master Seamus O’Dwyer was very much to the fore on his new bay, brought on by Keith Martin from Galway, hounds are now been hunted his aide de camp Emma Ryan. They now have two gorgeous children, Tadgh (4) and James (1.5), both at the meet and enjoying every minute of it.

The Suir Vale is one the country’s more recent hunt clubs having only achieved recognition form the Irish Masters of Harriers in 2004. For all that, they bring a quiet professionalism to the sport and both Seamus and Emma are out-and-out hound people. It is said that Emma can name and rattle off the pedigree of any Suir Vale hound just having seen it look out over the ramp at 100 metres.

Regular whipper-in JJ Kinane as missing on family duty but his place was more than amply filled by Henry Cummins from Rahealty. Henry comes for one of those elite families who has taken part in, and won Ireland’s Fittest Family. The year was 2016 and on the day the final was screened and the winner declared, young Henry was whipping-in to the Suir vale from their meet at Moyne.

Henry didn’t come solo, he was out with girlfriend, Ashley Dan from Knock near Roscrea, just at the outer edge of Golden Vale country. He became something of a legend for the length of time he held on to the overhead bar on the television show, so holding onto his horse should present no problem!

Every good village should have a sporting pub and Drombane has Ned Ryan’s which is in the course of re-construction but that didn’t in any way lessen the welcome or the fayre. Proprietor John Ryan keeps a couple of broodmares and has bred a Cheltenham winner. Their beer garden is actually a very smart stable yard with the stables being used as mini saloons. As if all that wasn’t enough, the family are extensive landowners in the area and the first half of the day was mostly in Ryan family land. Happy Days!

Smashing gathering

All too soon the saddling bell was sounded and conviviality put aside. A smashing gathering of horses, hounds, riders and foot followers were out, every one of them a proper foxhunter.

Visiting from the neighbouring Tipp’s was Ber Bourke on her trust bay Dollie whom she has been hunting since she was four. Ber, has featured more than once in these columns, usually for her dashing exploits with the Tipp’s. She works in Coolmore where she looks after registration and health and safety. No day with the Suir Vale is complete without Tom Tynan, the hard-working secretary, who farms near the Ragg. For many years a Garda driving instructor, he worked from their training college in Templemore.

Emma Ryan, huntswoman of the Suir Vale Harriers, leads her hounds to the first draw on her lovely grey \ Catherine Power

First time out with the Suir Vale was Nick Seale who, with his partner Celia Mills, has recently moved to the North Riding and bought a place here. He formerly hunted with the Heythrop where he was field-master when Anthony Adams carried the horn.

No stranger to Ireland, he spent many years with the famed Ned Cash while his partner Celia, originally a Waller, has strong Limerick connections. We had a chance to catch up with Mick Feeney whom I have met hunting with such notables as Aidan ‘Suntan’ O’Connell. Visiting from Laois were the Craines, Paddy and Stephen John were both out for the day.

Raymond Burke has been field-master for more than a couple of seasons. Formerly he worked in the meat industry but is now a full-time carer for his son. Before move-off, the obligatory photos had to be taken on the hill road.

Emma was on her favourite grey who can really do the business. With 12 and a half couple of beautifully matched Old English, they looked a picture as they hacked to first draw. Both she and Seamus are huge fans of Old English with outcrosses from Waterford, Limerick and Duhallow. Emma is very busy – as well as hunting hounds, she also milks a herd of cows and acts as AI technician for Dovea during the breeding season. This give her a unique connection with the local farming community and goes a long way to explain the welcome the hunt receives almost everywhere it goes.

Family groups

It was nice to see family groups such as the Tracey’s from Borrosleigh and Eimear Darcy from Thurles where the family run a riding school. Also out was Davy Moore from Clonmore, riding a nice grey owned by Raymond Burke.

Photos taken and with hounds moving off, they went to draw Ned Ryan’s where they found. Reynard circled the covert no less than three times before running for the Dundrum road where Emma stopped hounds.

They were in huge block of old country remote from roads where they drew Charles O’Dwyer’s covert which was blank. With some really challenging jumping, they drew on almost all the lands owned by different branches of the Ryan family – Michael, Oliver and PJ – but sadly all were blank.

Hounds then crossed over the Castle Hill road where Brian Sorley of Loughmore became our guide. They went up a long laneway leading to Seamus Dwyer’s suckler farm. Hounds first drew Seamus Carey’s farm where the a third season hound, drafted to the Suir Vale by the late Ger Withers of Duhallow, showed interest in a forbidding blackthorn thicket.

Her persistence paid off as they soon had a fine dog fox afoot and the music was mighty. They hunted from Johnny Gleason’s plantation where Reynard only briefly lingered before setting his mask north ending at Conor Kennedy’s. With all the cattle still out, Emma wisely decided to lift hounds. They drew on through Charlie Ripman’s sporting farm which unfortunately was blank.

With shadows lengthening and weather worsening by the minute, Emma wisely decided to blow for home. Happily the hospitality at Ned’s was not found wanting and so ended a smashing opening meet for the Suir Vale.