Tipperary man Seamus Kelly hasn’t allowed Cystic Fibrosis to halt his gallop with the local foxhounds
At this time of year there are only a few places you will find Seamus Kelly on a given afternoon — either on the home farm, hunting with the Tipperary Foxhounds, or out and about with his own foot pack, the Jessfield Harriers.
“Once I am active, I am happy,” the 40-year-old says of his love for the outdoors.
These are the words of someone who now clearly appreciates all he has in life, having suffered ill-health since childhood.
Seamus was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF) at the age of six, at a time when he should have been enjoying all that comes with being a young boy on the family farm.
“What they didn’t know at the time was that my parents, Jim and Kathleen, were carriers but didn’t have it themselves,” he said. “I and two of my siblings, Adrian and Aileen, all have it. My other brother, Liam, is the only one not to have the illness.
“Adrian and Aileen were both diagnosed at birth but I was only diagnosed at the age of six after months of tests. It took several attempts to find the problem.
“They used a method called a sweat test after I began suffering from colds and coughs all the time. My immune system was very poor.”
Cystic fibrosis affects the internal organs, especially the lungs and digestive system, causing them to become clogged with thick, sticky mucus.
This leads to frequent and severe infections.
“The warm weather plays havoc with me — I absolutely hate it as I get all clammy and cannot breathe properly. I really love this time of year when it’s cold, once I don’t get a chest infection.”
A native of Ballingarry, Seamus grew up on a dairy farm, but he has also been immersed in horses for most of his life. Hunting plays a huge part in keeping him sane.
“If I didn’t have the hunting I’d be dead long ago. Horses and hounds are my health service. I control my CF — it doesn’t control me. That’s how I look at it.
“I’ve had my own foot pack for 25 seasons. I am now 40 so I’ve been involved since I was a teenager. I keep harriers at home and we hunt every Sunday.
“We have a great following in cars and about another 15 or 20 people on foot. Many of these are farmers’ children. The exercise is very beneficial to my condition and the fresh air is also very important.”
Seamus has also been involved with the Tipperary Foxhounds; for 18 seasons he has officiated as a whipper-in — someone who helps the huntsman control the hounds. He can regularly be seen donning the customary ‘pink coat’ around the country roads of Tipperary.
Last summer, Seamus was in the main arena of the RDS as the hounds were paraded on the final day of the Dublin Horse Show.
The Tipperary Foxhounds are the only pack in Ireland to hunt four days a week, so Seamus is spoilt for choice when it comes to getting out and about.
“I pretend to be a farmer and look after the sucklers at home,” he says. “During the summer I do other odd jobs, but for the winter months, it’s all about hunting. It’s my passion and I love it.”
“Even the team at St Vincent’s Hospital know me well. They all laugh when they see me coming in for treatment in July or August. They say ‘the hunting must be coming up as you are here now!’.”
To keep his condition under control, Seamus must undergo two weeks of therapy annually.
“I would meet a team on a Monday, then go back the following week to have a line inserted into my arm,” he says.
“I can then go home and administer the drugs myself. I refuse to stay in the hospital during that time.”
All going well, after this treatment Seamus can then ensure that his batteries are recharged for the upcoming hunting season, which starts with cubbing in September.
“I keep an inhaler with me all the time and I have a nebuliser in the jeep. One day I was out hunting and forgot the inhaler and was under pressure, so I made someone drive me back to the jeep in the middle of the hunt. After a few minutes on the nebuliser I was as right as rain again.
“Another time I was helping our local Civil Defence to search for a missing local person. We found him safe and well but it was a late finish up and I was fairly tired after it. The following day we had the opening meet of the hunt in Fethard.
"The day was fairly warm and as I was heading on up to the meet on my horse I took a few puffs of my inhaler, just to be caught on camera by a local photographer. This led to another interview with a newspaper.”
While Seamus does his best to remain positive at all times, he recalls a few dark days in 2012 when he lost a good friend in tragic circumstances.
“Paul O’Brien was a close friend for over 20 years and when he died suddenly I took it very badly,” says Seamus.
“As a result I had a two-week stay in St Vincent’s to be treated with antibiotics.”
Paul’s memory now lives on through a grey horse named Miller, who is held dear to Seamus’s heart.
“Paul had him as a three-year-old and he was sent to the Dunphys to be broken. When Paul died, I offered to buy him. He is a full Irish Draught and is a machine, so he will never be sold.”
It is obvious that Seamus’s positive attitude has kept him going all this time and he looks forward to many more good days in the saddle.
“Fighting CF isn’t easy. You have good days and bad, and probably some of the worst were a team of doctors standing in front of you telling you that you wouldn’t see your 18th, 21st, or 30th birthday.
“This year I celebrated my 40th birthday so I proved so many people wrong. The determination and drive in me to enjoy life, to enjoy my horses and my hounds, and my friends and having the laugh. That’s what it’s all about.
“With CF there is always hope. Keep fighting on and never give up.”