With the cold New England weather shutting down their hunt season shortly after Thanksgiving, a robust group of Norfolk Hunt Club (MA) members headed to Ireland in February for a week of sport and sightseeing. When joint Masters Tom Lewis and Dominic Cammarata began to coordinate the trip, they expected seven or eight travelers - but ultimately 18 brave souls made the trip. Not only did they escape frigid temperatures, they enjoyed the good fortune to ride five days on the Emerald Isle without any rain.
The Americans headed straight from from the airport to the Dunraven Arms in Adare, their base of operations, to deposit luggage before continuing on to Galway for a cross-country lesson. Under the watchful eye of James Tonery of Cooper's Hill Equine, they had a chance to practice every type of obstacle that might be encountered in the field. Tonery also arranged their first few days' sport, which allowed each rider the benefit of taking the same horse through two meets and a special beach ride. Lewis appreciated Tonery's attention and care for the visiting Yankees, noting that "He and his employee rode with us and really watched out to make sure we were okay, which was encouraging to those who hadn't hunted in Ireland before."
A merry band of Yankees on the Emerald Isle. Photo courtesy of Cooper's Hill.
Their first meet, a foxy day with the Grallagh Harriers, lasted from 11:00 am to 4:15 pm, somewhat longer than most were accustomed to spend in the saddle. The Dunraven Arms proprietors, Louie and Brian Murphy, however, did not fail to live up to all expectations of comfort and catering to the weary equestrian guests. The following day allowed for some physical recovery as the group toured the National Stud Farm and ancient buildings at Kilkenny.
The next meet was hosted by the Galway Blazers, featuring many foxes and runs over another four-plus hour day. Capturing the stereotypical American experience in Ireland, Lewis said, "People came off, but that goes with the territory." Some of the members came to ride, but preferred not to hunt, so in addition to the first day's clinic, they enjoyed a beach ride along Galway Bay and a hack through the charming town midweek. Another highlight was a tour of the Harriers' kennels. Lewis, joined by joint Masters Owen Hughes and Cammarata, appreciated the discussion of hounds and the education about the Harriers' kennel management.
More unmounted activities included a visit to the Cliffs of Moher, tack shopping, spending a day at the local steeplechase meet, and touring the ring of Kerry in Killarney. That evening, the Murphys provided a special private Irish dinner, featuring leg of lamb, bacon and cabbage, and other delicious offerings for the large group. Despite lots of driving and close quarters, the Norfolk folks maintained an amiable camaraderie and esprit de corps.
The final meet was to the south at the Limerick Harriers, with horses arranged by Louie Murphy. Lewis reported that he was pretty sure the proprietor was joking when he described one livery horse: "We haven't caught him yet, but I promise he'll be broke by 10:00 am tomorrow!" In fact, the horses were universally considered wonderful, "They take care of you they know their job, they were well turned out." The Limerick's double bank country caught up nearly everyone; all riders were scratched going through brambles; one concussion was reported; a couple of other croppers experienced the Irish sod up close. But all recovered in time to clean up and return for the hunt's closing meet party that evening.
The Irish hosts provided suitable mounts for every rider. Photo courtesy of Cooper's Hill.
With a few scrapes and plenty of stories, the tired group returned to the US determined to visit Ireland again perhaps the year after next. Lewis emphasized how their itinerary had offered something for everyone, even the non-riding significant others, and how welcoming the locals had been. "We were looked after, before, during and after the hunts, and that really made us all feel more confident." In turn, Tonery of Cooper's Hill said, "The Americans came as guests and left as friends. Wonderful people who were enthusiastic about everything and were so happy to just be in Ireland. We are so proud to have been their hosts."
To view a video of the Norfolk group's experience, visit the Cooper's Hill Facebook page.