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HIBERNIA VENATICA

BY

M. O’CONNOR MORRIS

AUTHOR OF “TRIVIATA; OR, CROSSROAD CHRONICLES OF PASSAGES IN IRISH HUNTING HISTORY

WITH PHOTOGRAPHS.

LONDON

CHAPMAN AND HALL, 193, PICCADILLY 1878

TO LIEUT. -COLONEL

H.R.H. THE DUKE OF CONNAUGHT

JE ©ctftratc

(by permission)

THESE EPISODES OF THE FOX DRAMA

AND THE DRAMATIS PERSONAL AS PERFORMED ON THE IRISH HUNTING STAGE DURING THE SEASON OF 1 8 76 IN WHICH H.R.H. TOOK MANY PARTS AS PATRON, LEADER, FOLLOWER, AND OCCASIONALLY AS (i WALKING GENTLEMAN.”

Digitized by the Internet Archive in 2017 with funding from Getty Research Institute

https://archive.org/details/hiberniavenaticaOOmorr

PREFACE.

The indulgence of the public to my last record of a season’s sport in Ireland, emboldens me to offer a second series of my letters to The Field , just as they appeared in that journal, without revision or alteration.

I have styled the volume Hibernia Venatica,” hoping thereby to place my country in a more pleasant and popular aspect than it could command as Hibernia Politica, Hibernia Paccata, or Hibernia Polemica.

The Greek, in the story, appealed from Philip drunk to Philip sober. The writer would follow the example of the outspoken Macedonian, and appeal from a community inflamed with the alcohol of sensational politics, frenzied by the phantasms of social rapine, and rabid with the virus of fanaticism to a people united and harmonious in maintaining the chivalrous pastime of hunting, proud of the prestige of their county packs, jealous of their repu¬ tation, and, as in the case of the great body of the occupiers of the soil, submitting cheerfully to some dis¬ comfort and actual loss in furtherance of the common

PREFACE r

viii

sport. For ’tis no small praise, though only justice to the farmers of Ireland, to record that even in the dark years of famine and pestilence, fox-hunting, which hung on their approval, was never discontinued in that fearful cycle, and that when class feuds and antipathies were at their highest level, hunting, though never the pastime of the majority, ever held the even tenor of its way, un¬ molested, and practically, if negatively, encouraged.

Most countries can boast the present luxuries of high civilization, beautiful scenery, the pathos and tenderness of past associations, the treasuries of art, or the resources of spirit-stirring sport within their borders. Ireland, not altogether poor in the former categories, is eminently rich in the last desideratum, which marks out this beautiful isle of emerald sheen, thrown up like a terrestrial anaday- omene as a waif from the seething Atlantic, to be a special paradise for hunters, a very Arcady of pursuit, from the golden vale of Limerick to the almost boundless grasseries of Meath the royal.

Switzerland, with its concordant discord of nature, is said to be the playground of Europe. Paris and Rome, Venice and Florence, will ever swarm with curious visitors so long as art is worshipped and history is enshrined in men’s thoughts and memories ; Scotland is yearly affected by migrant gunners, with prudent appreciation ; while the salmonidse annually turn Norway’s rivers and fiords into very tides of Pactolus.

Ireland where St. Patrick took up his parable from the wayside weed, the shamrock alternately a bovine Boeotia,

PREFACE.

IX

like Basan, or a green Goshen for sheep and shepherds, offers hunting capabilities in its damp muggy climate, in its verdant vesture, and in its comparatively scanty rural population, such as no country in Europe, or, I believe, in the world, can parallel.

Modern civilization, which has banished the booming bittern and nearly exiled the screeching snipe, through the Deanston fabrics, and opened out the surface by four main trunk lines of rail, has hitherto proved, not, as in other lands, antagonistic, but most ancillary to the royal sport. Pursuit is thus made possible to the many, and scent and going are actually improved.

That a social revolution has been advancing like a spring tide in Ireland, must have been evident to all observers of the country during the past generation.

(i A stranger fills the Stuarts’ throne

is true of many an ancestral park, hall, or castle, and many a settler in America, Brazil, or Africa. “Delicta majorum immeritus luit ; such delicta having been too lavish an hospitality, too reckless a profusion, too careless a reckoning with unjust factors and stewards of the Gospel type.

The hunting-field bears strong confirmation of this proposition. A few years ago, comparatively speaking, the squirearchy and their friends were the main elements at every meet ; now they only leaven the masses of soldiers, professionals, box for the season folk, English visitors, Scotch farmers, horse copers, horse trainers, and

X

PREFACE.

railway people. Three packs, of the highest fame and oldest traditions, are now presided over by strangers ; natural aptitude and a coincidence of favouring circum¬ stances having raised them to this exalted position in the county hierarchy ; nor have any of the advenae, so far as I can gather, failed to justify their election to the venatic presidency.

These circumstances, which some regret, but which, for my own part, I think of the very best augury for the future of the island, all show that Ireland is being very largely exploited as a hunting centre, just as her salmon fisheries have drawn thither multitudes rich in purse and full of leisure.

At this moment some four or five packs of hounds await each their “coming man,” and will, I venture to predict, be none the worse managed if entrusted respec¬ tively to a stranger who has been entered in a good school, and whose zeal for hunting has led him away from home to

Spurn vain delights and live laborious days ;

whose ambition will be in showing and enjoying the sport he shows, untrammelled by local or hereditary prejudice, but judging men and things about him from that truest standpoint his own unbiassed judgment and observation. As for nervous qualms, arising from the perusal of the rare land-begotten crimes, let no intending sport-quester in Ireland give the subject an anxious thought. No hunting man that I ever heard of was molested in Ireland. Like

PREFACE .

xi

the richly dight but unprotected lady in Moore’s song, the hunting stranger will find lots of friends and protectors wherever he goes,

For though they are handy at pistol or stick,

A sportsman they’ll welcome and treat like a brick.”

The importance of hunting to Ireland may be estimated by some of the following considerations :

Absenteeism is allowed to be one of the sore plagues and ulcers of the island. Here is a certain balm and pro¬ phylactic.

Capital is still a huge desideratum. Hunting brings capital, not vast, perhaps, but considerable.

Nay, more, does it not hurl away absurd and ignorant prejudices of race and creed, and raise men to a common platform of good fellowship and good sportsmanship ? The man who this day sheds his blood with me, shall be my brother,” said the great Plantagenet. Is not the com¬ munity of peril and the sympathy of excitement a stronger cement than half the nostrums of political patchers and political pullers down, levellers up and levellers down ?

There are drawbacks, ’tis true, to my ideal hunting- grounds wire barricades gates and hedges so thickly that one or two districts are shunned by straight riders as is a harbour full of torpedoes by wary captains. In the days when Irish patriots harangued in the College Green forum, a great orator is reported to have said, Every bush con¬ ceals a knave, eager for prey and flooded with iniquity alluding to three illustrious Irishmen of the day. In the

PREFACE.

xii

country I allude to many a bush does conceal a wire strand. Traps in other districts have improved the good old fox- hood of the country away, and the modern substitute is a poor creature, of much inferior type and prowess. While a few large-acred men prefer the pheasant of the minority, to the fox, the joy of the majority.

These things have been ; these things will be ; but all this notwithstanding, Ireland is an unrivalled hunting- field !

The old lady of tradition felt a thrill of historic rapture at the very sound of Mesopotamia. Meath is a modern Mesopotamia. The Tigris and Euphrates water no fairer vales than the Liffey and the Boyne. The Suir is more to us now than the effete though immortal streams of Simois and Scamander.

CONTENTS.

i.

PAGE

Rehearsals Harriers and hare-hunting Their popularity in Ireland

The Duke of Connaught in the field Cubs and cubbing Gaps in the hunting circle A visit to Ashbourne . . . . i

II.

Lever du rideau in Meath Kells Headfort Fast thing from Shaucarn Bellinter and its beauties Summerhill Wilkinstown Swains- town Carton, etc. ....... 8

III.

Opening day with “the Wards” With the Louth hounds The Flat

House West Meath, etc. . . . . . .22

IV.

Kildare’s opening day Pageant at Johnstown inn and village Allens- town Lord Darnley Scariff Bridge Cork and Lord Fermoy Galway and Mr. Burton Persse Maynooth Mr. H. Stubber and Colonel Chaplin ... . . . . *34

V.

Stag-hunting in excelsis ! Bective House and its Host and Hosts Curraghmore Sport Summerhill and its Snows Scurry from Ballycaghan Victims . . . . . -49

XIV

CONTENTS.

VI.

Races and Rain— Punchestown Gorse Ward run Galway Blazers Meath West and East Sir D. Roche ....

VII.

Hunting bravery Belgard Kickers and Kickees Sir D. Roche The Fairy House Somerville scenery Kilkenny sport Shiner

VIII.

Mr. Chapman and the run from Cullen’s Gorse Abbotstown Cork and Limerick— Kilteel and Snow-Storm”

IX.

A bishop in partibus Stag-hunting— Mr. Dundas on Gazalier Bellinter harriers Blue collars Beltrasna Gorse Limerick hounds

X.

Traps and Trappers West Meath Kilbrew Mr. Reeves’ oyster beds and harriers The Marquis of Ormonde Straffan Bridge

XI.

Stony Batter and mud batter Poor-house Gorse run Rathbeggan stag- chase Garradice United Cork, etc., etc. ....

XII

May nooth— Cullen’s Gorse Christmastide The Mount Neil run Mr. French’s death Trim “London” .

XIII.

Trim Trimlestown and Lord Langford Cryhelp Westmeath Water jumping Kilkenny Kildare, etc. .....

XIV.

Courtown company Corbalton chase Punchestown programme Dan- gan Bridge Sam Reynell’s death Mr. Burton Persse

PAGE

64

80

100

117

134

148

162

178

196

CONTENTS.

xv

XV.

Ballinglough burst Culmullen chase The Black Bull The Grange

XVI.

Rathcoole rendezvous Fine run from Johnstown Kennedy Baytown .

XVII.

The fox in ambush The Ward at the eighth mile-stone Snow and Storm Drumcree Brannoxtown Pageant at Abbotstown .

XVIII.

Abbotstown levee Mr. Archdale’s fate Snow-Storm” Kilkenny and Queen’s County sport Philpotstown and Rathmore Westmeath .

XIX.

Dancing and Dublin Bellavilla run Venison and venerie Duhallow sport .........

XX.

Larracor Fine evening run from Pratt’s Gorse “Laragh” Kill near Killakee A field squandered .....

XXI.

“The Hatchet” Beltrasna burst Swainstown Carlow and Kilkenny Maynooth ........

XXII.

Maynooth and its multitudes Bective beatitudes Mr. Murphy Long run from Dunmurry Dunboyne and the Ward hounds

XXIII.

Woodlands lawn, meet at Kilrue Bellinter harriers Dunshaughl in Reisk Gorse Mr. Preston’s stables and pack Louth

XXIV.

Trim and Trimlestown Mullingar meet Bellavilla Bill Ryan The dancing 6th ........

PAGE

213

230

245

259

278

295

315

330

348

367

VI

CONTENTS.

XXV.

Observation and observations Somerville Fifteen mile stag-hunt Captain Candy and Culmullen The Ladies Churchill Wexford Galway Kildare sport ......

XXVI.

Last scenes Rath Gate Corballis Gorse Kildare Red-coat races Carlow ditto ........

XXVII.

Partings and meetings Rahinstown Hunt ball at Naas Skreen Hill

XXVIII.

Louth sport Bloomsbury pageant Huge meet Navan races, etc.

XXIX.

Brittas and Jackson’s Gorse Meath Red-coat races Knox and Kathleen H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught . ... .

XXX.

PAGE

384

400

414

425

430

The Finish

. 440

HIBERNIA VENATICA.

f

- Leporum

Secreta cubilia lustrat!

So ho ! so ho ! says the bold Marco !

Rehearsals Harriers and hare-huntings Their popularity in Ireland The Duke of Connaught in the field Cubs and cubbing Gaps in the hunting circle A visit to Ashbourne.

The hiatus between the close of the grouse and partridge cam¬ paign and the commencement of fox-hunting has been pleasantly- filled up in Ireland by cub-hunting rehearsals, and much harrying of the timid hare. The latter sport is certainly far more generally popular if attendance and numbers be any test than the pro¬ cess by which young foxes are indoctrinated early into the sweet uses of adversity, and taught how to pluck the flower Safety out of the nettle Danger. Why this should be so does not exactly appear at a glance. Perhaps the early and intempestive hours, which keen cub-hunting masters have been always obliged to adopt in the month of September and early October, have something to do with the very thin ranks of their followers; perhaps the secrecy which is maintained about these matutinal forays may partially account for the fact, or an over-high ideal standard of the class

B

2

HIBERNIA VENA TIC A.

of horse which a fox-hunter should ride, when compared with the modester qualifications for a harrier hunter. Certain it is that the autumnal fields which accompany hare-hounds are almost plethoric in their dimensions, embracing individuals of most of the large studs who will soon be engaged in the more arduous and ambitious pastime; while farmers apparently reckless of the fact that the gyrations of a hare in a narrow compass, when followed by a long cortege all out expressly for jumping and schooling purposes, is infinitely harder on crops and fences than the rapider whirlwind of a fox chase swell the currant-jelly ranks to a most respectable host. So far as hunting has gone, the hare men have had much the best of it, for the bouquet de lievre has been a more titillating stimulant to hounds than cubs, or even old foxes, have proved in this almost scentless season; and a few very animating chases have been enjoyed by some harrier packs already notably by the Mallow, the Kildare, and the Newbridge hare hounds. The two latter, indeed, have proved a most valuable adjunct to the large camp at the Curragh and the cavalry regiment at Newbridge, training half the regimental horses and giving their owners a few capital' gallops. As a matter of title, I believe I am correct in stating that the Kildare pack claim the greater part of the Curragh as their prescriptive arena; both packs, however, drive hares over the vast plain from the surrounding border lands ; and game is so scarce, I hear, on the Curragh that the two packs meditating an odorous assault on the single hare of the grassy common might remind one of the two kings of Brentford distilling the sweetness of a single rose. His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught began his hunting experience in Ireland with Mr. Maxwell’s har¬ riers on Friday last in that beautiful reach of grass land around Kilbride which the Meath and Ward Union hounds have made a household word among hunting men. A fashionable and hard- riding assemblage drafted from the Dublin garrison, and the Ward Union men, mustered on the occasion; but the legend of the day might be “great cry and little wool,” for fur proved extremely

HIBERNIA VENA TIC A.

3

scarce in the county we crossed, and the merry little muggers were very vociferous over the single short-running specimen that turned out for their delectation. If, however, there was little of pursuit, there was plenty of jumping, and the obstacles were of a kind that taxed the energy and capability of a good hunter, and not a few succumbed to the width of the ditches and breadth and height of the banks. The Duke of Connaught was admirably mounted on a long and low son of The Lawyer’s one of those exceptional sort of horses who catch the judge’s eye at once in the prize ring, and are equally efficient and at home in the biggest countries. A pleasant half-hour among the good things at Priestown, the resi¬ dence of a famous one-armed horseman and supporter of all sport, wound up a bad day’s hunting; but if his Royal Highness, who has only just returned from the Calpe hunt with its rock-to-rock springing, witnessed a poor specimen of Irish hares and their hunting (a pastime which Blome, a writer of the seventeenth cen¬ tury, declares to be full of subtlety, and possessing divers delights and varieties which other chases do not afford), he was gladdened with the prospect of a grassy arena such as few portions of her Majesty’s dominions can equal or surpass.

There is a general consensus of opinion among all masters of fox-hounds as to the absolute necessity not to say expediency of rattling the young foxhood of their territories about, if only to teach them the legitimate art of self-defence, besides the value of the early quiet practice to the young entry. In England cubbing is a regular institution, occupying a large portion of the quarter preceding the regular campaign, and the number of cubs immo¬ lated during this period seems to Irish ideas almost a wanton and excessive sacrifice. Certain it is that no county in Ireland could withstand the drain which the excessive keenness of many English huntsmen make in the fox supply for the season. The Marquis of Waterford is almost the single M.F.H. in Ireland who carries out the English programme in its entirety buying cub-hunters specially for the purpose, and producing by November a list of

4

HIBERNIA VENA TIC A.

masks and faces which is far ahead of any of his brethren of the craft. But it must not be forgotten that the Curraghmore hounds have special advantages in the magnificent “chase” afforded by the home woods and pastures, and the bearing and discipline of this fine pack show in the season the benefit of these early lessons in woodland lore. Most Irish masters have to contend with an almost entire absence of forest privilege; for any traveller through¬ out the island must be impressed at once with the generally tree¬ less and hedgerowless aspect of the landscape as he surveyed it from railway carriage or coach. “Csedunt arbores qui alteri sseculo prosint” was the motto of our forbears, in lieu of the “serit” of the poet, and square miles of unshaded greenery make one imagine that in some past generation a legion of arboricidal Gladstones had been suddenly let loose over the land, with orders to leave no sylvan or leafy thing standing. This want of woodland has, per¬ haps, something to say to the staider system of cub-hunting which obtains generally throughout Ireland shorter in extent and infe¬ rior in result to the English practice. Thus, with the single exception of Mr. Mervyn Pratt’s woods at Cabra, where the packs of two counties take their pleasure alternately, I know nothing at all comparable to the hunting facilities which the Lower Woods afford to the Badminton kennels the Northampton forests to their packs. The burden from most counties has borne a most monotonous iteration game abundant, but scent at zero. In Kildare, which is a very artificial country, the supply of foxes bodes well for the ensuing campaign. There have been a few sharp gallops, but want of scent has been the rule. Mr. Hamilton Stubber explored the Queen’s County with the same happy results; while in Kilkenny foxes turn up whenever they are wanted, and the average has been something over one killed each morning. Lord Huntingdon and Mr. Trench find the Ormond and King’s County territories well stocked, and so do the United Hunt, the Muskerry, the Duhallow, and the Limerick hunts. In Western Meath Mr. Montague Chapman has been very busy, and I heard

HIBERNIA VENA TIC A.

5

of a cub killed at Galston Park last week, who really showed fine sport. In Louth Mr. Filgate has had to fight the same uphill battle against low scent in covert till the 12th of this month, when things improved at Hilltown, and a brace of cubs were killed there, and another brace run to ground. In Lord Gormanstown, who died very recently full of years and honours, this county loses a very staunch supporter of fox-hunting in theory and practice j but in this family it may well be said

- Uno avulso non deficit alter

Aureus.

Fox-hunting begins in Louth on the 24th inst. The obituary list of the past week has been swelled by the name of George Putland, who was a thorough patron of sport in all shapes ierrd mcirique potens . In him the Bray draghounds lose their enter¬ prising master, and the Brighton of Ireland misses a pioneer in all sporting adventure.

In royal Meath much of the cubbing is done in that remote and picturesque corner, where Cavan, Westmeath, and Longford have planted their marches, and Lough Shelin forms a reservoir for all these counties a rough country enough, but admirably suited for the purpose, even if somewhat hard on horses. There was such a fine stock of foxes left last season in Meath, that, even supposing Lucina had not been propitious to the gravid vixens, no apprehension of blankness in any quarter need be entertained. The reason for choosing the hillier and wilder districts for making young hounds must be obvious to any one who has ever driven through this bovine country, where the bullocks are as those of Basan, and where unaided nature alone turns out horned stock in a condition to be envied by the most patient and expert of stall feeders in the Sister Isle. I know nothing more striking to an eye fond of pastoral scenery than a mdden transition from the more highly-cultivated but less blessed fields of England to the grassy pastures of midland Meath, what

6

HIBERNIA VENA TIC A.

time the partridges are being sorely exercised by drivers and gunners in ambush. There is a sappiness and a richness of colour in the lush green grass which no other land can rival, and every tree and thorn-bush acknowledges the fertility of soil and mildness of climate which makes almost every wide pasture field, with its well-bred, well-fed herd of ruminant cattle, a better study for a Cuyp or Claude than even the best bits of Normandy or Picardy. I have not heard that scent has been more pro¬ pitious to Meath than to other parts of the Green Isle, which, for the first time this year in the memory of its old inhabitants, realized Virgil’s description of a parched land unwatered by art or nature

Cum exustus ager morientibus sestuat arvis,”

or that any very striking passages occurred in their cub-hunting period ; but the forthcoming season is spoken of as likely to be exceptionally brilliant, so far as large fields are concerned, and an influx of distinguished visitors. Royal names are even coupled with royal Meath’s and kingly Kildare’s hunting grounds ; but, be that as it may, no descendant of the Stuarts can forget that a special and spontaneous loyalty awaits him in the hearts of Ireland’s genuine sons and daughters.

On the 1 8th inst. the Ward Union Hunt were announced in a very influential oracle of Irish sporting matters, and with much flourish and circumstance, as about to begin their annual stag chases ; and, in order to mislead still further, the point of ren¬ dezvous was fixed at the kennels of Ashbourne, where, at a solid and substantial dejeuner a la fourchette , the Ward Union committee usually meet their country friends and supporters, as well as the garrison of Dublin, and, it may be, the hunting section of the vice-regal staff, with that miscellaneous aggregation of men and women to whom the panorama of a stag hunt and the certainty of meeting many friends and acquaintances is quite attraction enough to draw them from a circumference of ten or fifteen

HIBERNIA VENA TIC A.

7

miles. The morning was glorious; the afternoon was almost continuously wet. So it did not add to one’s equanimity to find at the usual trysting time, or it may be half an hour later, that one formed a unit in a small body of poissons d’ Avril, who had been credulously drawn to Ashbourne’s precincts by the same baits flesh pots and sport. The printer, it seems or his in- spirer had shoved on the hand of time by a week. Hinc illce. lachrymce / Hence these dripping garments ! But if the fiat had not gone forth that “this day a stag must run” (or die), the kennels, stables, and deer park were well worth a passing glance, with everything about them as taut and ship-shape as in an old- time seventy-four ; the kennels in their wholesome sweetness showing that “the nitrous air and purifying breeze” were im¬ portant factors in Charlie Brindley’s system, while the presiding genius of the place was looking as hale, hearty, and vigorous as if the classic bard of The Chase had drawn his ideal portrait from him

The huntsman ever gay, robust, and bold,

Defies the noxious vapours, and confides

In this delightful exercise to raise

His drooping head and cheer his heart with joy.”

It is certainly provoking to ride a long distance for sport and see none ; but, on the other hand, the ditches looked on either side of the road chokefull of grass, weeds, and other constituents of “blindness,” and this Ward country is quite difficult enough to cross in midwinter without the presence of any extraneous impediments. No doubt the disappointment was salutary.

8

HIBERNIA VENA TIC A.

II.

%Qu>v crecraA evrcu.”

Tally-ho ! Gone away !

Lever du rideau in Meath Kells Headfort Fast thing from Shaucarn Bellinter and its beauties Summerhill Wilkinstown Swainstown Carton, etc.

Many will be familiar with Charles Lamb’s naive rejoinder to the chief clerk or head of department at the India House, when he was summoned before that impersonation of ruffled official majesty. “Mr. Lamb, why do you come so habitually late to your office ? I must have some explanation, sir.” “’Tis true,” stutteringly answered Elia, ’tis quite true that I do come very late, but pray recollect how very early I go away.” Now the Meath hounds are the very antithesis to Charles Lamb’s systematic curtailment of the hurry due to red tape and departmental ukase. They begin earlier than any pack I wot of in Ireland, and they leave off later. Their precision at the trysting place on the correct card during the season is often considered over-strained by the tardy and unpunctual, and so long as it is possible to draw on during the brief illumination of a winter’s day, so long will Mr. Waller comply with any reasonable request to try so-and-so run the hounds through that coppice or furze-brake even where many a master would think he had done more than enough to gratify an ordinary appetite for sport in his field. In fact, the fox family in Meath have a very uneasy time of it, once the cubs have shown signs of

HIBERNIA VENA TIC A.

9

being able to travel afield; and the description one Irish landlord in London gave of another’s retainers, namely, that Mr. Threestars’ tenantry were the most harried and harassed set of men he knew of (meaning thereby their familiarity with distresses, processes, and evictions, and such like engines of the oppressor), is very apposite, I think, to foxhood in Meath. On the other hand, during the close season, these interesting felons have the tenderest care lavished on their wants and caprices. Bulletins are sent about respecting the health and habits of Mrs. Vixen and her thievish brood. They take young lamb” before any of our sybarites; presents of game in fur and feather, black game in the shape of crows, woodpigeons, and many other minor delicacies of the season, find their way to the earth or hollow tree the family are known to haunt; forays on hen roosts, felonies of pheasants all these things are not only condoned, but acquiesced in, as the ebullitions of a wild, high-couraged race; while some noble sports¬ men have, I hear, with a view to improve their physique and to initiate them early into training, supplied the young esurients and their mammas and papas with Spratt’s dog biscuits, by a due course of which food it may be supposed, theoretically, they would be put on a level with their pursuers so far as condition went, while their wily instincts would be so much weight in their favour in the great handicap ’twixt fox and hound. Whether the new style of feeding works the desired result is a problem awaiting solution; but I feel sure that if a turtle soup and still champagne regimen was a specific for turning the ordinary vulp into an extra¬ ordinary, straight-running, long-winded, bold tod, the remedy would not be long wanting in certain quarters. Fortunately, a rat, a newt, a frog, a beetle, or a mouse rank higher in the fox menu than the veriest nectar or ambrosia of our cellars and larders.

The hunting of foxes in Meath ceased to be an Eleusinian mystery to which the hierophants and the initiated (practically the few who had “the office,” as the argot goes) alone were admitted, on Thursday, the 19th inst. I believe I am correct in stating that,

lo

HIBERNIA VENA TIC A.

in accordance with the time-honoured traditions of the country and its hunting archives (inflexible generally as were the laws of those old oriental hunters, the Medes and Persians), the pre¬ vious Tuesday would have witnessed the lever du rideau on royal Meath’s fox-hunting drama, but that many of the principal sup¬ porters of the hunt and owners of coverts were engaged in synodical functions in Dublin of the gravest moment in fact, electing Lord Plunket Bishop of Meath (Ardbraccan, his palace, is close to the county kennels, and its wide episcopal lands and woods are much run through and over in the season). The scene of the opening day is, I believe, equally fixed by custom or tradition, or both, at Headfort, the spacious park of the marquis of the same title, which graces with its well-wooded undulations and natural lake (formed by the river Blackwater, now in full spate) part of the line of hills on which stands the interesting old town of Kells, whose history is so intimately interwoven with the fluctuations and vicissitudes of Ireland’s fortunes. The antiquarian would fain wander by the Aryan round tower, or by St. Columkill’s ivy- mantled hermitage pausing at the Celtic cross, whose ornamen¬ tation and symbolism speak of a lettered and artistic past. The hunter of foxes must huny past many interesting signs and tokens of a great past and comfortable present in Kells. In ten minutes more, if his Jarvey will give the mare her head, he will be within the cyclopean walls of Headfort Park, trying to find his mount in the tumult of horses and horsemen, and the sauve qui pent , devil take the hindmost, of the mimic fray; for a fox has been found in the home woods already, and a very large and brilliant cortege , strongly picked out with pink, is galloping up and down the rides, while Bishop and Colton are cracking their whips, and the sylvan sounds so long unfamiliar to the ear are filling space once more. A ring past the stately house, and then we emerge in a rather north-easterly direction towards open country, when, just as the many-coloured pack, racing over brilliantly green turf, were begin¬ ning to show us their form and pace so soon as scent (almost dead

HIBERNIA VENA TIC A.

ii

in the woodlands) served them a bit, our fox got into an impreg¬ nable bank. A second fox had, it would appear, started parallel to him, and him we chivied, with no very positive result either, through the woods, and into some burrow or other near the rail¬ way; and now, during these pauses, we can take some stock of our ensemble and their surroundings.

Homer made, said, or sung a catalogue of the transports used in his famous war, but your scribe cannot undertake any enume¬ ration of the sportsmen and sportswomen who flashed through the russet-tinted woods or lingered on the verdant lawns. Enough if we can glance at a few of the more conspicuous of the melee. The executive deserve the pride of place. Mr. Waller has evidently summered well, and so has his handsome workmanlike bay horse, whom I recognized as a friend of last year. Goodall, the new huntsman, is on a very neat grey of good lineage, but certainly to the eye not equal to his weight, save when horses can go on top of the ground, not through it. He looks the huntsman all over (as indeed he is bound to be, if birth and breeding avail aught), and his pack, full of lusty condition and bright as stars in a green firmament, look as if they had reached even a higher level than last year. Bishop, the first whip, was on a tidy-looking dappled grey; T. Colton, the new whip (from the Duke of Grafton and George Beers), was on a wiry bay all good men and efficient, as we hear on all sides. Of the fair forms en amazone , Miss Waller was charmingly mounted on a well-known Kildare horse; so were Miss Tisdal and Miss Kellett, and the Misses Reynell. “Cadet,” who carried Mrs. Garnett, is a celebrity beyond hunting fields; Lady Chapman’s ponies were extremely neat. Big men must have big horses big somewhere, though not necessarily leggy, or even tall. Mr. Sam Reynell was riding a stalwart bay of a good stamp; the Hon. Harry Bourke’s Phenomenon looked capa¬ ble of doing as great things as he did last year; the Hon. C. Bourke was on a capital flea-bitten grey; Mr. Mervyn Pratt rode a fine hunter; the Marquis of Headfort rode two of his high-class

12

HIBERNIA YEN A TIC A.

hunters through the day; the Hon. Captain Maxwell was admirably mounted on a chestnut mare; Captain Trotter’s bay looked as if it could carry a heavier man than its owner (a harder ’twere not easy to pick) ; Mr. Kearsley’s grey was a very nice high-caste animal ; Mr. Dyas was on a rare weight-carrying stamp, of a light bay colour; Mr. Naper, of Loughcrew, always rides nice horses; Mr. Johnstone’s colt by The Colonel looked full of promise; while Messrs. Rothwell, Rowley, Mortemer, Hopkins, Ratcliffe, Sweet- man, Walker, Montgomery, Chapman, Froome looked very hap¬ pily carried; and Master Wilson Patten (the youngest entry, I fancy) looked at home on a neat black pony. Half an hour suc¬ ceeded in doing hunter’s justice to the good things which Lord Headfort’s hospitality provided, and while in the dining room the topic of conversation was the hunting convocation to which Lord Waterford had bidden so many hunting celebrities, and the high- class sport he had shown them notably two very good runs, the first from Lord Bessborough’s coverts, and the second from the Castletown woods.

Presently we are by the side of a gorse which rejoices in the name of Williamstown (Mr. Stawell Garnett’s care, I believe), and are gladdened by an almost instantaneous find and “gone away ! Popping over a low stone wall, we sweep past Dilmount, when again sport is marred in a most promising stage by defective earth-stopping. Trains in this part of the world wait only for the captain,” so we bade a reluctant farewell to the pack en route to Kingsfort, which, I believe, did not hold to-day. O dura venatoribus terga” must be the motto of this Meath line, for an exchange from the saddle to a first-class carriage is hardly a gain in comfort or even softness. I hear this line is very liberal to hunters, and this fact, if true, must cover a multitude of im¬ perfections and short-comings in charges and accommodation. A dripping day is succeeded by an evening downpour, and the lower country seems partially in flood, every, brook having over¬ flowed its banks. Thus far into the bowels of the earth (I mean

HIBERNIA VENA TIC A.

i3

copy) had your scribe penetrated, when he received an account, written in hot haste and with none of the intoxication of delight yet evaporated, of the glorious finale of Meath’s opening day which, miserable slave and bondsman to a niggardly company that only runs two trains per diem, he was denied the joy of witnessing, even if his testimony had been only that of a witness placed by force of circumstances at a respectful distance. The daylight was just beginning to wane, when a fox posted out of Shancarn, made his point straight for the hill of Mullagh, nearly seven miles distant, where the hounds had to be whipped off, owing to the supervening darkness. Scent, I hear, was superb, pace something short of flying ; and this express rate of travelling, plus a big brook, weeded out the field, barring four Goodall, whose riding was simply “Goodallish” (pardon the expression, but the Correggiosity of Correggio tempted me), the Hon. Harry Bourke, and Messrs. Trotter and Kearsley. Of those proximi longo intervallo I can give no account, and I tell you the tale as ’twas told to me. From all I hear, Goodall has already won golden opinions in royal Meath. Friday introduced me to about the smartest pack of bitches, small foxhounds, about a dozen of the best-stamped weight carriers, nearly all greys, to be seen in Ireland, and such kennel and stable arrangements and ap¬ pliances as an amateur of hounds and horses and all their paraphernalia rarely has an opportunity of witnessing.