‘We had one of those magic days’: meet Ireland’s hunting linchpin *H&H Plus*

  • David Lalor has been a master since 1992 and is in his second term as IMFHA chairman. Liam Clancy talks to him about his life, and whether the sport is under threat in Ireland

    If any one person could be said to be the face of Irish hunting, it is David Lalor, currently in the middle of his second term as chairman of the Irish Masters of Foxhounds Association (IMFHA).

    “I’d say that I’ve had to devote more time to it this year than any other chairman who went before me, due to insurance and Covid and the whole lot,” he tells Horse & Hound.

    The strain of the job appears to rest lightly on his broad shoulders. He is a level-headed character, a shrewd judge of both horses and men, with a good-humoured tolerance for human frailties. He is also, of course, a desperately keen hunting man, battering his way across the bank-and-ditch country of Co Laois on his big, well-bred horses with a facility that many men half his age cannot match.

    The Lalor family has been based at Ballygogue, Co Laois, since 1850, farming their broad acres, producing and selling horses, and of course hunting with the county pack.

    Ballygogue House itself is a delightfully cluttered, comfortable property, built in the mid-19th century around a longhouse centuries older. It is a house in which rare books and ne paintings, slumbering gundogs, tarnished trophies and sporting memorabilia all vie for space on equal terms.

    David’s path in life was laid out for him early.

    “I never had any thought of doing anything else but farming,” he says. “It suited me fine. I was able to hunt whenever I wanted. I never had any great ambition to ‘go out foreign’ or anything. My father always hunted twice a week, and any visitors who came to the house hunted as well. I always had a fairly good pony, even though we had to break them and make them ourselves.”

    David Lalor MFH

    David’s father, Harry Lalor, was master of the Laois (Queen’s County) hounds before him, with his uncle Dessie sharing the mastership and hunting hounds.

    He laughingly recalls his first day’s hunting: “I was only five or six years of age, I suppose. I was on my sister’s pony. My father brought me to the meet and there was a big fuss made about me… I was forgotten about then when the hounds took off. I have memories of ploughing out through oul’ yokes [banks and drains], and then next thing I got lost. Some car followers rescued me.”

    Stepping into the mastership

    These inglorious beginnings did not prevent him from following in his late father’s footsteps and taking on the mastership of the Laois in 1992.

    “It felt like a natural progression. I was honorary whipper-in for 20 years.”

    He carried the horn on a number of occasions when the huntsman was incapacitated.

    “I remember the very first day I was landed with the job. They were all so afraid that the hounds wouldn’t stay with me, they said they’d take the hounds in the trailer to the first draw,” he laughs. “I put the hounds into the covert and well, we had one of those magic days. I was only riding a four-year-old horse. It was probably the making of him; he turned out a super horse afterwards.”

    Of the many men who have hunted the Laois hounds in his time, he rates David Thompson highest.

    “He had everything. He had the charm, and he could pull a rabbit out of a hat almost any day. He’d find a fox at the last minute and we’d have a right few minutes, and everybody went home happy.”

    He also speaks highly of Hugh Robards, who famously hunted the County Limerick Foxhounds for 27 seasons: “Best hound man I ever saw.”

    David’s farming interests meant that he never had the opportunity to hunt hounds full-time. He runs a large mixed farm, and on three occasions he hosted the National Ploughing Championships, the biggest agricultural trade show in Europe and a great annual flagship event for Irish agriculture.

    His impeccable farming credentials and high profile have been an enormous help in ensuring the Laois meets with a welcome from farmers all over their country. They also helped to make him a valuable member of the IMFHA. He took his place on the committee in 1995 and succeeded to the chairman’s role ve years ago.

    “Within and without the Association, David is hugely respected,” says Kate Horgan, who preceded him in the role some years earlier. “He has an amazing number of contacts throughout the farming and equestrian industries, and he works very hard as our chairman.”

    David Lalor MFH

    David on duty at the Royal Dublin Show

    “Lessons to be learnt”

    The 11th Earl of Harrington, known to his friends simply as Bill, was chairman when David first joined the Association, and he set the bar high for those who followed.

    “You’d have to admire him,” David says. “You’d have to say he was a man ahead of his time altogether. He could talk to anybody. He was the man that pulled a lot of hunts together, and he was instrumental in setting up FACE (the European Federation for Hunting and Conservation).”

    Regarding the English ban, David says, “There are lessons to be learnt from it, all right. You’d never want to take it for granted. Our strategy would be always to keep in contact with the Government, and to keep on the right side of TDs (Teachtaí Dála, or Members of Parliament). We have regular meetings with the Department of Agriculture, just to make sure that they can see we’re civilised human beings.”

    Of the small but growing anti-hunting movement in Ireland, he calmly states, “They don’t know. They think they know, but they don’t. You would be hoping that the antis will take on too much. They’re taking on intensive farming and live exports, and they’ve nearly gone vegan. You’d be hoping that people will realise that there’s a bigger agenda and that while hunting is there, the other sports and the other things are reasonably safe.”

    I ask David if the pressures attached to his role as IMFHA chairman ever get on top of him.

    “Not at all, that doesn’t worry me at all, really,” he says.

    I do not doubt it.

    Ref: 18 February 2021

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