THE controversial St Stephen's Day hunts passed off peacefully yesterday as protesters stayed away from the major runs around the country.
Hundreds of hunters trailed the scent of the fox at the traditional post-Christmas meetings.
Around 70 people turned out for the Bellewstown, Co Meath, hunt where the fox was given a break and the stag was the subject of the chase instead.
Ward Union Hunt committee member Declan Brooks said the day had been a success: "It was a pleasant day and nothing unusual about it."
The hunts in counties Cork, Kerry and Kildare also passed off without incident.
In Killarney, the Malton Cup for best rider in the Kingdom Hunt was awarded to Helen Barrett from Scartaglin.
Despite the lack of protests at yesterday's meetings, the Association of Hunt Saboteurs still used the day to criticise the Government on its failure to introduce the Animal Welfare Bill with any urgency. It also claimed that the number of people hunting had fallen dramatically this year following their protests in the past.
"Hunt numbers were small with limited numbers of followers compared to previous years," a statement said.