Stonehall still packs a punch in hunting

Famous Limerick hunt unveils book to celebrate its centenary

Caitriona Murphy

The Stonehall Harriers, one of Co Limerick's best-known packs, celebrates its centenary this year, having been formally founded in 1911.

However, the pack's history goes back even further, through local hunting families including the McDonoghs of Bansha, Kilcornan, the Westropp family of Melon, Kildimo, the Hewson family in Toomdeely, Askeaton, the Langford family from Foynes, the Whites of Nantenan and the Sheehys of Court, Kildimo.

Until the formal founding of the Stonehall Harriers, these families had maintained their own packs of hounds, but, following the club's formation, the families donated hounds to the Stonehall pack.

The founding members of the club included John McDonogh, Denis O'Shaughnessy, Tommy Power and Michael O'Neill, with early subscribers including the Hunt, Hewson, Sheehy, Massey, Langford and Mangan families.

The past 100-year history of the club has been recorded in a new book, Stonehall Harriers Centenary Record, written by Dr John Feheney, a native of Ballysteen.

According to the author, the Stonehall Harriers were initially known as the Kilcornan Harriers, while they were a trencher-fed pack. However, when the hounds were kennelled in the vacant Royal Irish Constabulary barracks in Stonehall, the name was changed to the Stonehall Harriers. The hounds were to be kennelled at Stonehall until a purpose-built kennels was constructed in Bansha in 1945.

The Stonehall Harriers has the unusual distinction of having two masters whose careers have spanned the club's entire 100-year history. The hunt's first master, Paddy McDonogh, held the office from 1911 until 1953. Michael O'Shaughnessy became joint master in 1953 and, sharing duties with others over the years, including Betty Hewson (1953-1956) and George Kennedy (1956-1990), has stayed in that position since.

The Stonehall Harriers is a farmers' pack in which social class was brushed aside and members of the gentry and working class shared their love of hunting. A generation or two ago, there was a local carter who laboured six days a week, using his one horse to cart materials for a local business. However, every St Stephen's Day and New Year's Day he put the cart aside and rode him to the Stonehall Harriers' meets. It was a similar story with two local farming brothers, who used two half-blood horses all week for ploughing and general farm work but, come Friday, the horses were washed, saddled and ridden to the Stonehall meet.

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As already mentioned, the original Kilcornan/Stonehall Harriers pack consisted of hounds of varying origin and genetic background. Some came from the Mellon Harriers, owned by Monty Westrop of Mellon, Kildimo. Others came from Captain Kelly, of Bunratty, and more from John McDonogh in Bansha.

Today, the Stonehall Harriers pack consists of foxhounds, not harriers. Genetically, these are English foxhounds and the Stonehall currently has 25 couples or 50 hounds in all, including a few Welsh foxhounds, which are easily recognisable by their hairy faces.

Kennel huntsmen have included Pat Joe McMahon, of Kildimo, and Joe Barry, of Stonehall, in the pack's earlier days to Bobby Hanley, Ritchie O'Shaughnessy, John Neville, Patrick Hourigan, Gerard Sheehy, Anthony Kenny and John Finucane.

In more recent years, professional huntsmen Graham Buston, Dick Chapman and Bryan Moran, in turn, have taken care of the hounds.

The area hunted by the Stonehall Harriers is regarded as largely 'stone wall' country, unlike much of the country in Limerick, which has an abundance of banks and ditches, including the world-famous Irish double-ditch.

Among the many personalities mentioned in the book is Captain Harry Freeman-Jackson, who represented Ireland in five Olympics and rode with the Stonehalls for 25 years.

Famous horses to have started their careers in Stonehall country include Jessica, winner of a bronze medal in show-jumping at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.

Jessica was bred by Michael Kelly, of Askeaton, out of an Irish Draught working mare, covered by Askeaton off Captain Jim Lyley's stallion Candleabra.

Their offspring was bought by Ivan McDonogh, who hunted her with the Stonehalls before selling her to Swiss rider Max Hauri, whose sister rode her to the bronze in Los Angeles.

Denham Hills was bred by Dan Ranahan of Ballysteen (again by Candelabra) and sold subsequently to Derek Ricketts, from Britain. Under Ricketts, the horse became Horse of the Year at Olympia in 1980.

Jessica Kurten's famous mount Diamond Exchange started out with Ronnie Kelly in Askeaton and hunted with the Stonehalls before his many international wins in the showjumping arena.

Other memorable horses include Cheltenham winner Hordago, event horse Loughlin and showjumper Preachan.

Priced at €25, Stonehall Harriers Centenary Record, by Dr John Feheney, is available to buy at the Dunraven Arms, Adare; the Heritage Centre, Adare; Deelside Saddlery, Askeaton, Super Valu Askeaton, and Country Life Style, Mallow, Co Cork. Call Tommy Kelly on 087 913 9103 or PJ Dore on 087 255 4794 for more information

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