Echo 130: Draghunting is a special sport for Corkonians 

John Coughlan looks at the history of draghunting in Rebel county as The Echo celebrates 130 years of publication this week
Echo 130: Draghunting is a special sport for Corkonians 

Northern Harriers are ready for the Blackpool Draghunt in 1927.

FEW would imagine that the sport of draghunting first began in the late 18th century with the first official draghunts beginning in 1902.

One hundred and 20 years on and the sport is still going although clubs have reduced considerably the appetite from the present membership is determined to keep the show on the road.

Draghunting is an extraordinary sport and each Sunday the trail goes to a different course as trainers vie for the pleasure of witnessing their hounds crossing the tape in first place.

To the general public in Cork and beyond they might find it hard to understand but once you get the draghunting fever into your blood it never seems to leave you.

Up to 1968, horseflesh was used as the hunt for the hounds but a far easier solution in aniseed oil mixed with paraffin followed.

Southern Harriers members at the Watergrasshill Draghunt in 1985.
Southern Harriers members at the Watergrasshill Draghunt in 1985.

One of the major changes in draghunting was made in 1997 when the Cork association changed its method of finishing a race.

Up to that year, the winning hound was judged by coming off the final ditch and the first to touch the ground was adjudged the winner.

Since then the draghunting trainers call their dogs to a finishing tape just like their English counterparts in Cumbria which is by far a better spectacle.

There are many of the elder lemons who were against this method as they felt hounds who had done the majority of leading and driving the hunt out the course would not get their just reward if they were a little nervous to racing to a tape with plenty of people in sight.

In 1963 another major change occurred as the Cork association decided to purchase English trail hounds and Fair Hill were first on board when they acquired one named Chicory.

That proved another success to a point but few could deny that hounds like Cartgate Laddie, Ulswater Prince, Branded, Croft Victor and Mason to name a few all oozed with sheer class.

The biggest problem for the Cork association has been the decline in clubs as in the fifties 26 were registered in the Cork City and County Harriers.

The present clubs is now reduced to eight with Northern Hunt, Shanakiel Harriers, Clogheen, Griffin United, IHT, Mayfield with Kerry Pike and Fair Hill Harriers joining forces and another partnership has seen Southern Harriers combine with Carrigaline.

Northern Hunt Harriers in 1961.
Northern Hunt Harriers in 1961.

In truth, it’s a huge drop but the reality is that when draghunting was at its best you had no distractions like computers and Sky Sports. The young people of today are just not interested in exercising and training draghunting hounds on a daily basis.

My greatest memory of the sport is the incredible characters that were associated with the various clubs.

Northern United were once the Liverpool on Cork’s northside and for them to withdraw from the sport was a complete shock.

The problem was very simple as people like the late Dinny O’Mahony, Tommy West, Davey O’Shea, John O’Mahony and Seamus Twohig were never replaced as no club in this city and county were as strong as Northern United when the sport was thriving.

Even to the eight clubs that are still affiliated many of them have lost key members when you take a look at Northern Hunt.

Garry O’Sullivan, Johnny Devereux, Donal O’Mahony Sean O’Sullivan and Tom Connolly to name a few were men steeped in their club tradition. Many people were shocked when Fair Hill and Kerry Pike were forced to amalgamate due to a lack in numbers in both clubs.

A former Fair Hill stalwart Frank Quinlan holds the record of holding the position chairman of the Cork City and County Harriers association from (1964-1973) and (1975-1989) a total of 25 years.

No chairperson is going to please all the membership all of the time in the role but Frank Quinlan was a decent man and is still held in high regard by the people who had the pleasure to work with him.

Having respect for people goes a long way in any sport and that’s one outstanding trait that Frank Quinlan carried throughout his time involved in the sport.

In the coming years, draghunting will meet challenges and the association will have to be ready to face them head-on. Getting new venues is probably the biggest challenge for the sport and this will have to be looked at in a serious manner.

Legendary draghunt trainer Christy Keating who has been involved with his club Kerry Pike for the past 63 years.
Legendary draghunt trainer Christy Keating who has been involved with his club Kerry Pike for the past 63 years.

The farming community play a major role in the sport and having a good relationship with landowners is a must for survival.

The present chairman Adam O’Sullivan was behind getting Ballymacoda and Cloyne on board to host the Puppy and Senior All Ireland’s last season.

In the coming years, the present clubs will have to attract new young members as draghunting will not survive if the conveyor belt ceases to move with the times.

In a nutshell, draghunting is a wonderful activity and it’s crucial that the present clubs work together to ensure its survival for another 120 years.

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