On my way from my home in Corofin recently to my workplace near Athenry I came upon the Galway Blazers drawing the woods near Castle Ellen. That, for me, was confirmation that summer was over and autumn firmly established.
Foxhunters are not the only people that await September with enthusiasm, as the first of the month is also the opening of the duck hunting season. Later on in November the pheasant and the woodcock will be added to the list of huntable species. Athenry and its half -parishes is blessed with some ideal hunting country for both the foxhunter and wildfowler alike, so it is not surprising that there is a strong assimilation to country sports among the people of the area. The spectacle of the foxhunt, the restrained enthusiasm of the hounds until they are let loose on the trail of the fox, the smell of horse and scent of leather, the bustle and energy of the whole affair is enjoyed by town and country folk alike.
The Blazers have recorded some fine hunts in the Athenry area, and one is described by Edmund Mahony in his anecdotal book “Falcons and Foxhounds” as starting at Cartymore Cross, preceding between Mount Browne and Coolarne and over to Crumlin before the fox made its escape in Ballyglunin woods. The hunt travelled seven miles in fifty minutes. That was on the eighth of January 1981. Edmund also claimed that the Blazers are often led over the countryside by a phantom fox which has some connection with the Blake family of Frenchfort.
Wildfowlers are more solitary in pursuit of their sport and rarely venture out in groups of more than three guns. It is a hardy and sometimes unrewarding activity. I have sat with local fowler Martin T. Kelly beside a certain lake , which shall remain nameless, on top of a damp wet bog on many a cold December evening long past sunset, and the duck did not come. But when they did fly, the first indication of their presence being wingbeats, your eyes frantically scanning the darkening skyline, and then they are all there against the greying twilight. The sport is fast and furious. A flight rarely lasts more than half an hour. Two or three ducks apiece in the bag , a long cold trek back to the car and it’s down to Kelly’s in Monivea for a couple of “Hot Ones” to warm the bones. Declan Kelly will always enquire as to how we fared. We will always double the size of the bag. Well, if fishermen can do it why not fowlers.
Fowling is not just about taking, it is also about management and wise use. Some years ago I was involved in a project with Seamus Collins, Tommy Madden and other members of the Athenry/Derrydonnell gun club in a pilot covert planting project to mark the start of National Tree Week. We were ably assisted by neighbouring clubs. I am told that George Moran threatened to march the members of Tiaquin club down at pitchfork point if they did not show willing.
The project was generously sponsored by the Ulster Bank in Athenry through the support of Terence Brady, a keen sportsman, and one of the finest trainers of gundogs I have ever seen. That project provided the impetus for many other clubs in the county to plant some areas with mixture of hardwoods and evergreens to provide a welcome habitat for game and other wildlife that will be there for the enjoyment of future generations of hunters and nature lovers alike. I am often asked why I enjoy fowling, woodcock shooting and other country sports. Often the question is laced with a disapproving glance. Quite frankly, I find the question amazing as I cannot understand why anybody would not enjoy a days hunting, shooting or fishing. But I do accept that there are two kinds of people who should never involve themselves in country sports. Those who do not care to kill and those who can kill without caring.
Those who object most strenuously to country sports are often largely ignorant of the basic ecology of wildlife species. Rather more sinisterly they look on nature as something that is separate and apart from mankind; something which should only be viewed on a television screen from the comfort of an armchair in which man has no rightful place except as a spectator.
This is the new religion of “specieism”. It is urban based, anarchistic and ultimately unsustainable. It is also capable of doing real damage to the rural economy if allowed to go unchallenged. The duck, pheasant or woodcock that the fowler takes with a shotgun is as much a project of nature as a salmon or trout or a basket of fresh mushrooms or wild blackberries. Those of us who live in communities like Athenry, or in my own case Corofin, are lucky in that the landowners have a generous attitude to visitors. It does not apply to every country in Europe. Responsible hunters have always protected the landowner by insuring against accidental damage. The gunclubs have in place a tailor—made fund which protects both hunter and landowner. The Law Reform Commission has advised the government on changes which would be desirable in the law to give landowners the greatest degree of protection when people are allowed to enter their land. The Irish Farmers Association has acted with both a sense of generosity and responsibility in supporting these changes for the benefit of all who wish to enjoy the countryside.
Yes, we are indeed lucky to live in such a place, and we should cherish it and its traditions, its language, its ancient places and its wild ones, and its country sports.
Written by Wildfowler
Published here 09 Feb 2021 and originally published November 1999
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