Hunters and the Irish Famine

10 Feb

starving victims and foxhunt

While thousands lay dying of starvation across Ireland during the Great Famine (1845–1852), foxhunters and hare coursers worked to ensure they kept their cruelty alive…

“The sound of the huntsman’s horn and the yelping pack mingle in terrible discordance with the groans of the dying parent and the cries of children perishing for lack of food…” (Cork Southern Reporter, 13 March 1847)

“We are well used to the images of poverty and starvation, evictions and destitution when we think of the Famine but we rarely realise that for many, life as they lived it with its hunting parties, dancing, gatherings, fashions, concerts and sumptuous dining continued as if there was no Famine.” from a report on the launch of Ed O’Riordan’s book ‘In Terrible Discordance – A Provocative Study of The Great Irish Famine in the City and County of Cork’. November 2011

“It appears the Ward Union Staghounds were in fact in existence in November of 1846. This was at a time of the Great Irish Famine in Ireland and there are many references to the exploits of these hunts and the ‘enjoyment’ of the participating gentry, while thousands were laid wasted along the verges of the roads and streets of Ireland. from a Drogheda Independent column focusing on the shameful continuation of hunting for sport during the Irish Famine – http://www.scribd.com/doc/109813094/Hunting-during-Irish-Famine Other hunting groups mentioned in the column are the Louth Hounds, Meath Hounds, Duleek Hounds, Gormanstown Harriers, Fingal Hounds and Trim Hounds.

“During the Great Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s, the contrast between the lives of the Anglo-Irish Protestant landed gentry and Gaelic Catholic tenant farmers was stark. While the rich and wealthy lived in luxurious country mansions and could indulge in feasting, sport and leisure, their tenants lived in wretched poverty and in danger of starvation. The deaths of a million of the Gaelic Irish during the disaster and the emigration of millions more in the latter half of the 19th century led to bitter resentment, violent subversion and land agitation against the landlord elite. Ladies and gentlemen on horseback pursuing foxes with their packs of hounds became a symbol of British oppression of the Irish peasantry in the eyes of many Irish nationalists.” from A Complete History Of The Westmeath Hunt From Its Foundation by Edward F. Dease, 1898.

“The Hunt was again fortunate in finding another Kildare man as Master. It is hardly necessary to recall the fact that the year of Mr O’Connor Henchy’s acceptance of that responsible position was that of the disastrous failure of the potato crop in Ireland, that time of famine which brought such misery on the country and had so profound an effect upon its fortunes. It is not surprising, I think, to find a dearth of information upon the sport of those dreadful years, years of starvation intensified by political trouble, by State trials and suspensions of Habeas Corpus Acts. It is a wonder indeed that fox-hunting was found possible at all, and there was at one moment a question of suspending it altogether. Certainly the difficulties of the Mastership must have been increased tenfold, and the Kildare Hunt owes a great debt of gratitude to Mr O’Connor Henchy for coming forward at such a time to keep the long tradition of Kildare sport unbroken. As a fact the famine was felt more severely in other parts of Ireland than in Kildare, though, of course, there was misery everywhere…[Kildare Hunt huntsman Stephen Goodall] once told me that his sufferings were great in Kilkenny during the famine years, when he saw starving people and yet had to feed the hounds.” from A History Of The Kildare Hunt

“County of Waterford Coursing Club – The Club met on Wednesday. The 7th inst., at Blenthis, the property of Richard Charnley, Esq., to run for a plate of £10, but owing to the badness of the weather, there was rather a thin crowd. … Father O’Connor’s ‘Snowball’ beat Mr. Sparrow’s ‘Captain’’ Mr. Tallon’s ‘Star’ beat Mr. Cuffe Wall’s ‘Wellington’; Lord Huntingdon’s ‘Duchess’ and Mr. James Galway’s ‘Sham’ undecided. Hare killed. The hares were capital and abundant – the attendance of the country people very numerous. They all behaved in the most orderly manner, remained on the hill, and showed the greatest delight in the day’s sport.” (Cork Examiner, 14 Jan 1846)

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