"In Ireland, the early 1950s through the 1960s was an era of amateur Master/huntsmen―young men of some means―who took on a pack of hounds more as an avocation than a job," writes our correspondent, Dickie Power. He was fortunate to have hunted with many of them, such as Thady Ryan in Scarteen, Evan Williams in Tipperary, Lord Daresbury in Limerick, Capt. Harry Freeman-Jackson in Duhallow, Victor McCalmont in Kilkenny, Elsie Morgan in West Waterford, and PP Hogan in Avondhu. This is our second installment in Dickie’s series about these remarkable men and women.
I started my hunting career with the Co Limerick foxhounds and the late Lord Daresbury, MFH and huntsman. In the eyes of a small boy, he appeared a forbidding figure, tall and straight in his pink coat, elegantly turned out, and always beautifully mounted. It was an era of long hunts where hounds didn’t go home until they had accounted for their fox, regardless of the hour.
With the war over and the committee needing to restaff the hunt, they had wisely settled on Edward Greenall, 2nd Baron Daresbury. He had been Master of the Belvoir Hunt in Leicestershire for thirteen seasons (1934 to 1947). While Edward was his christened name, he was known to one and all as Toby, probably because it is a brand of ale from their family brewery, Greenall’s, which was the source of almost unlimited finance. Lord Daresbury came to Limerick and took up residence in Clonshire, then as now the property of the Co. Limerick Hunt.
His father, the first Lord Daresbury, had been MP for Warrington, later Master of the Belvoir, and ran the hunt in an extraordinarily grand style. Toby, Master of the Belvoir throughout the war years, hadn’t seen active service which allowed him to continue hunting throughout the hostilities. This may have led to some resentment and may have prompted his move to Limerick.
Toby, Lord Daresbury, didn’t come to Limerick alone. He brought the nucleus of his new pack from the Belvoir: all traditionally-bred Old English hounds which had totally avoided the Welsh out-cross as introduced by Ikey Bell (soon to be known as the modern English foxhound and to dominate most of the great kennels). His entourage included Miss Merrell (Merry) Atkinson, who had turned hounds to him with the Belvoir, and Lady Helen (Boodley) Hilton-Green, his life’s companion.
Lady Helen came with a unique hunting background from the Fitzwilliam family that hunted and owned the pack of the same name based in Lincolnshire. She had been married to 'Chetty' Hilton-Green, who is regarded to this day as one of the greatest huntsmen the Cottesmore had ever seen. The Hilton-Greens had but one daughter, Julie, who went on to marry Martin Molony, the leading National Hunt jockey of his time in both England and Ireland. Their son Peter now runs the very successful Rathmore Stud near Croom.
Lord Daresbury’s new home in Ireland, Clonshire, was run on the grand scale with never less than forty hunters for the season, a hundred couple of hounds bred to the best stallion hounds wherever they were to be found, and a staff of more than thirty. Paddy Reagan had come from the Carlow as first whipper-in. Hunting four days a week for such an establishment wasn’t just recreation or sport; it was more akin to a small industry operating year-round.
Out of season, it was time to lay coverts, put in hunt gates, and judge at puppy shows. Lord Daresbury judged the bi-centennial Belvoir puppy show in 1980, where his co-judge was a very young Prince Charles. Meanwhile, Boodley was busy making, breaking, and showing young horses. She was regularly in the championship line-up in the Royal Dublin Show, and unless her entry was adjudged Champion Hunter, it would return to Clonshire to join the hunt stable.
It was the first time Limerick had seen two or possibly three lorry horse boxes leaving Clonshire on hunting mornings. It was certainly a caravan to behold. As well as horses for the four hunt staff members, there were a further four second horses with grooms in tweed coats and spare stirrup leathers across their shoulders. The grooms’ job was to hack the second horses as gently as possible on the road between draws until lunchtime, when the change-over took place and the first set of horses returning to Clonshire straight away. Peter Stokes completed the team as terrier-man in a Land Rover kitted out with tractor tyres so they could get through almost any going.
Autumn Hunting always began on the first Monday after the Dublin horse show and would continue unabated, often six days a week until the first Monday in November. On that day, by convention, the opening meet would be held at the Four Elms, a pub just on the outskirts of Limerick where hounds still meet. The season would not end until well after St Patrick’s Day, so there was a lot of mileage on staff horses and hounds over a season.
Limerick, at that time, was a home away from home for English and Anglo-Irish families, many of whom came here after the war. Prominent among them were Lord Harrington and his brother Alan Lillingston of Mount Coote Stud, Capt Lisley, Wing Commander Brasier-Creagh, the Hutton-Wilsons, Tony Tarry of Islanmore Stud, and others. Many of those mentioned went on to be Joint-Masters of the hunt, most notably Lord “Bill” Harrington. The latter was also instrumental in making Clonshire into an international equestrian centre, which it is to this day, run by Sue and Dan Foley.
While it might sound like an elite club, mainly for those with a title or at least a hyphen in their name, everyone was made to feel quite welcome. Further, with almost all the costs being picked up by Toby and the brewery, locals could hunt virtually free.
For those who don’t know the Limerick country (and they are the poorer for that), it was divided into four distinct areas: the Monday Country east of Croom, where I would have hunted as a lad; the Wednesday country, exclusively wall country based around Askeaton and Rathkeale; the Friday country, the real deal with huge banks around Dromin Athlacca and Bruree; and the Saturday country around Adare itself, considered something of a poor relation only suitable for beginners and children.
With the years passing, 1970 saw the arrival of a young Hugh Robards, who came with a glowing reputation from no less than Captain Ronnie Wallace, MFH, of the Heythrop. Initially, he was to hunt the dog hounds two days a week, with Toby hunting the bitches on the remaining days. It proved an inspired appointment, as Hugh Robards went on to be considered by many as the premier huntsman in these islands.
Limerick became a haven for keen cross country riders from all over the world who relished the challenge of jumping the big banks at speed. With Champion Hurdle-winning jockey Alan Lillingston as Field Master, you needed a horse and jockey point-to-point fit; it just wasn’t for the faint-hearted.
In the mid-seventies, Toby retired to Altavilla near Askeaton, Boodley having been killed in a hunting accident. The lady who, to Lord Daresbury’s terror, fearlessly jumped any obstacle in her path for the simple joy of it, was galloping after hounds on a hot scent across a field of rushes when her horse put its foot in a hole and turned over. She died instantly.
With Hugh in full control, Toby continued to hunt with the assistance of Jerry Mulcaire. The two veterans would hack around the roads they knew so well, picking up hounds as they checked or hacked on to the next draw. In 1977, after thirty years as the definitive Master of the Co Limerick, he retired from the position.
Lord Daresbury passed away in 1990 in his eighty-eighth year and is buried with Boodley on the Fitzwilliam estate in Coolattin, County Wexford. But his hunting genes are not lost. His grandson, Peter, the current Lord Daresbury, is Master of the Wynstay (UK), while his younger brother Johnny is a former Master of the Meynell (UK).
Posted April 26, 2022
This article, previously published in The Irish Field, is re-published with permission.