Saturday 20 December 2014

Fiona O’Connell: Glamorous front hides the cruel view to a kill

Lay of the Land

It's a new year, but some things don't change – like the St Stephen's Day hunts that took place in Ireland. Which is ironic, given that foxhunting is banned in the country where it originated. Opinion polls confirm huge public support in England for keeping it that way.

But we do things differently here. Hunters insist that their blood sport is fine, and our leaders support them. Certainly, everything looked great at local hunts on St Stephen's Day in Kilkenny.

I've never seen so many gleaming white shirts. Everyone was groomed to an inch of their lives. Leather boots were polished like mirrors. Many women hunters wore full make-up. Parents led the way as their children trotted behind. Publicans offered them mince pies, as if the hunters were warriors heading off to battle forces of evil.

Some locals watched the spectacle. It's not every day that you see people on horseback, dressed to the nines and armed with whips and hounds.

The hunt paraded around town before setting off. And that was it. For unlike other sports, the actual event takes place out of sight. Or sound. That's when foxhunting's slip peeped from under its finery. For this blood sport's agenda is to hide its barbarity by performing a PR job. All that the public see is an opening ceremony, not the carnage that follows. This sport's image is all pomp and ceremony, as if a kill is irrelevant.

I commend those for whom it is, having opted for drag hunting. They show true sportsmanship. Some prefer the control and faster pace of a drag hunt. Others simply realise that it's neither kind nor clever to persecute an animal for fun.

But foxhunters refuse to drop the savagery. They're like men who won't wear condoms because it doesn't 'feel' as good. Their pleasure is paramount, and to hell with the consequences.

Yet traditions must stand the test of time. Foxhunting was one thing when we didn't know better. But there's a name in the 21st Century for people who enjoy terrorising animals. Only an outdated and dangerous mentality equates strength with cruelty. Are parents who bring their children on hunts teaching them that power gives you the right to persecute the vulnerable?

An older country gentleman at a hunt last year confided his sadness to me. What he lamented most, he said, was the want of a vet "for the end".

And there's the rub. For who can admire a 'sport' that looks glamorous at the starting line, but turns ugly after galloping away with its pack of hounds? To hunt a poor fox to a terrible finale, instead of letting it share the privilege of living into a new year.

Sunday Independent

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