fox hunting

Ireland at a gallop

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I’m posting a few more photos from Ireland, because past travel is more palatable than the current situation: snowed in and housebound with three antsy kids.

Ireland is not a popular winter getaway. No one ventures there in February to escape the weather. But I do. It’s good for fox hunting and the tourist population is minimal.

Weatherwise, I dodged a bullet. Martin texted this picture from Maryland.

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While he was shoveling snow, I was kicking around Ireland with Brynn and friends. (Home base was Kilcoglan Castle. My friend Karen owns it. I blogged about it last year, here.)

We spent two days in Co. Cork, near the southern coastal town of Clonakilty. While there, we got a dose of stormy weather and roiling waves.

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When the clouds broke, however, everyone spilled out onto the beach.

What a mob scene. Barely a square of sand to spare.

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Actually, the resort was packed with vacationers. It was mid-term break for Irish schools, and lots of families were on holiday. Brynn had plenty of company. Especially after dinner, when random kids roam the hotel, meet one another, and travel in packs.

They kinda reminded me of rodents: at first you wouldn’t see any, then you’d spot one loitering on the stairs, or one nosing around a bookshelf. They’d band together and suddenly you’d spy a herd of 4- and 5-year-olds. Then they vanish for 30 minutes and reappear again.

By 11 pm, they’d be out of steam.

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Back in Co. Galway, at Kilcolgan Castle, Karen (a.k.a, “Auntie Sheep”) put ‘Zilla to work walking dogs.

 

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There were plenty of dogs to walk.

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On Saturday, Auntie Sheep kindly watched Brynn while my friend Sarah and I went fox hunting with the Galway Blazers. Sarah drew a nice hireling named “Harvey.”

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I wasn’t quite so lucky.

My hireling — a dull-mouthed, chestnut monstrosity named “Jumbo” — pulled me at lightning speed over miles of countryside and oodles of obstacles. When a fox took us for a run, we ran… past everyone else. When riders lined up to jump a wall, Jumbo seized the bit, lowered his head and rushed forward, knocking aside anyone in his way.

“Sorry!” I’d scream over my shoulder. Once his hooves hit the ground, Jumbo was off again, apparently fueled by rocket propulsion.

We hunted for five hours. Occasionally my rubbery arms got a rest and I’d pull out my phone and snap a rear shot.

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All in all, it was a good day. It’s always a good day when you dodge injury.

Ultimately, there was no time to whine about the long drive from Clon, or five hours on a runaway horse. That evening we attended Blazers’ hunt ball.

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Pre hunt ball, in the castle

 

 

Later in the trip we stomped around Galway, Connemara and beyond.

It was a great jaunt. I wish I could be back there again.

Honestly, I’d take a teeth-clenching ride on Jumbo to escape the scene right here, right now.

 

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To Peter

 

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This blog post is dedicated to Peter Hitchen, who passed away today.

I thought about writing a “here’s to you” entry in remembrance of Peter, with quotes and anecdotes in honor of his memory. But they’d be like quips in a high school yearbook: too inside baseball (or in this case, inside fox hunting) and inconsequential to most readers.

And taken out of context, they’d probably sound sexual or perverted–

–which is how Peter would want them to be.

 

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In my very first job out of college, while working at a community newspaper, the managing editor cautioned me to never use the word “unique.”

“I don’t want to see the word ‘unique’ in an article,” she told the staff. “It isn’t descriptive, it’s a cop out. It doesn’t give the reader any details about a person or a situation.”

For 20 years I’ve hung on to that advice and have abstained from using that word in conversation or in print.

Until now.

I just don’t know how else to describe someone unparalleled and like no other.

Peter, you were utterly and entirely unique.

And we miss you already.

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Ireland, that’s a wrap

 

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As promised, here’s my blog post about Ireland. And only 96 hours late. Not bad.

Ireland was as I’d been warned and as I’d expected: changed and yet the same. Karen’s castle still reeked of its damp, stony smell and that wonderful, acrid aroma of fire fueled by coal and peat briquettes. It rained — at least a bit — each day. And at night the wind rattled the windows in the castle keep.

But some things had changed.

Karen was spot on about development. Motorways have fast-tracked road travel, eliminating the need to wend along two-laners and creep through villages. But they’ve also watered down the scenery; motorway driving is ho-hum — another generic strip of straightaway threaded through nothing. To a lesser extent, dual carriageways have rendered many rural roads obsolete. And pastures, once home to cows and sheep, now house… well…

…houses.

Still, there are a few of these:

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But also a staggering number of these:

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Irish food? It’s… better. Salads have certainly evolved. Once marked by a single leaf of iceberg, beneath a gelatinous blob of salad cream, salads are actually green(!) and even accompanied by other veggies… and not the spud variety. (Realize that I’m speaking of the country’s western reaches; Dublin has long offered cosmopolitan cuisine.)

But I can’t talk food without mentioning yogurt. The generic, run-of-the-mill, grocery store yogurt is simply delicious. It was my breakfast every morning and dessert most nights. Yum.

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And a few words about kids: children are golden in Eire. Celebrated, revered, always welcome in restaurants, hotels, even stores stocked with crystal figurines and porcelain plates. Shop keepers never scowled when I arrived with Brynn; instead, they considered it their duty to entertain my 3 year old while I browsed their wares. Gas station attendants offered to mind “the wee one, so she doesn’t get a chill” while I pumped gas and consulted my map. In restaurants, I’d leave Brynn alone at the table while I hunted down the bathroom, knowing full-well that the patrons and employees would watch her. It was really nice… this ever-present ‘Zilla assistance.

Oh you kids are having a pillow fight in the lobby? Perhaps we can find you more pillows to throw?”

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Fox hunting? Well that hasn’t changed a lick. It is still thrilling, intimidating and downright scary. Trappy country and imposing obstacles in pursuit of a fox. Sixty riders running headlong toward the same stretch of stone wall, then leaping off a bank and clattering down the road. That’s what I expected and I wasn’t let down. I hunted just one day, but it was 4 1/2 hours of fun and exhilaration, punctuated by moments of terror. 

Typically when riding, I don’t consider negative thoughts of potential injury or disaster. But hunting in Ireland there was a moment — as I stared down a huge, imposing stone wall, fortified with tightly-packed boulders — when I thought, “Ok, this might be the wall that kills me.”

But then I thought, “Get real, Jo. You might break your collarbone or a leg or knock out a tooth, but you’re not gonna die…

And then I thought “shut up, already” and I kicked my horse forward and we sailed over that monster wall. (Thank you, hireling, for being such a handy and athletic horse.)

Sorry, no photo of the monster, but here’s a typical stone wall of modest height:

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Music: Have you ever wondered what happened to the ’80s tunes? No, you haven’t? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway. They’re alive and well in Ireland. Duran Duran, Debbie Gibson, Wham, Mr. Mister, Starship… they’re thriving on Irish radio, sprinkled among song sets like salt and pepper. (Though admittedly, I didn’t hear anything from Salt-n-Pepa…). On road trips, I logged plenty of time reliving the eighties.

So there you have it. Ireland. The music hasn’t changed, the villages still smell of coal and peat, the back roads are perilously winding and narrow, the craic is still alive in pubs and shops, and the horses remain lithe and fast.

And, as I discovered one morning — standing alone on a stretch of southern coast, just after a rain… the sun warming the sky and the wind sweeping off the damp:

Irish air is the cleanest and purest that I’ll ever breathe.

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(Early morning, Inchydoney Island)