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A paper by the Baron de Robeck on hunting

Leinster Express 23 April, 1881


The following amusing paper was read by Baron de Roebeck at the entertainment given by the Naas Young Men’s Christian Association, on Wednesday evening:- When I had the pleasure of reading a paper at our opening session we were looking forward to the approaching sports of winter, and in spite of the extreme severity of the weather, we can recall so much that was pleasant and healthful, that we in no wise agree with the poet who speaks of the “winter of discontent.” We had a turn of skating, not minding occasionally getting a good ducking, and the season was wound up with renewed good sport in the hunting field, which I regret was brought to an abrupt end by poison left out, causing death to both fox and hound. I do not believe this was done from any ill feeling towards the noble sport (hear, hear), but with the view of preserving lambs from dogs during the lambing season, and I hope that for the future such a severe remedy will not be resorted to. I said that a really keen sportsman was not to be kept at home, even though, unfortunately, he did not possess a horse, for in that case he would take to using the nag commonly called shanks’ mare (laughter), which is a right good thing in its way when well shod, and not troubled with corns or chilblains (renewed laughter). That’s a nasty word, “can’t” that does an infinity of mischief. One can’t do this, one can’t do that – hang your can’ts! I often think that could the keen foot folks change places with the yards of leather and scarlet, what a much better chance there would be for the chase. They, at all events, come out from a genuine inclination for the sport. But I admit that the man with one horse is better off than the man with none (laughter), so if it can possibly be managed, let us purchase one, and it will not be long be before we shall find out how much sport we can see, even with a single hunter. The cost of hunting, like all other things, depends almost entirely on how you go about it, and surely it is far better “to rove the fields for health unbought” than “sue the doctor for a nauseous draught” (laughter.) Exercise is the best of all medicines; air, water and exercise will cure anything that is capable of relief. So supposing the horse to have been purchased, are there no points on which grey experience can show the beacon lights to hot youth? There are. Some years ago there appeared an advertisement, the purport of which was that the most inexperienced should be taught the secret of riding well for the sum of 2s 6d. For some time the advertiser drove a thriving business, until  at last an end was put to his gains by one of the applicants publishing the answer he had received for his 2s 6d –

 “Your head and your heart keep up,
  Your hands your heels keep down,
  Your knees keep close to you horse’s sides,
  Your elbows close to your own.” (Laughter.)

This is really such very good advice that it can hardly be thought dear at the money; but now that we have it gratis the best thing we can do is to put it into practice. So now let us betake ourselves with our new hunter to the covert side. How various the motives that draw men to the covert side! Some come to see, others to be seen, some for the ride out, some for the ride home, some for appetite, some for health, some to get away from their wives (great laughter,0 and a few to hunt. Ah! give me the few, the chosen few, the band of brothers that come to hunt. Men that know the country, and, above all, know when hounds are running, and when they are off the scent men that can ride in the field, and yet hold hard in the lanes.

“But as to the beginner a word ere we start,
Though keenly excited I pray you remember
That Hunting’s a science, and riding an art.
The fox takes precedence of all from covert,
After the hounds to be ridden not over.
Good hounds were not reared to be knocked on the head.”

Bear this in mind, make a note of it and then,

“If our house be well-bred, and in blooming condition,
Both up to the country, and up to your weight,
Oh! Then give the reins to your youthful ambition,
Sit sown on the saddle and keep his head straight.

Should you see a field nicely laid away, the surface all smooth and the furrows all open, you may conclude that is wheat even though the tender green blades, the promissory notes of life’s coming year are not yet apparent. Some labour hard to make themselves believe that it increases the crop to ride over it, but no man can make himself believe so, unless indeed he is satisfied that a drove of oxen improves the prospects of a flower garden by passing a night in frolicsome diversion therein (applause.) The wheatfield is the farmer’s flower garden; it is to it that he looks for the means of paying his rent and giving his amiable wife and accomplished daughter a scarlet velvet bonnet apiece with a feather drooping over the left ear (laughter.) Let every feeling man then consider when he is about to ride over corn that he is about to trample underfoot scarlet velvet bonnets and with them the farmer’s daughter’s best and tenderest hopes! (Applause.) Now let us observe that to hunt pleasantly, two things are necessary; to know your horse and to know your own mind. The horse is a queer critter. In the stable, on the road, or even in a green lane, he may be all mild an amiable, just like a girl your a courting of; but when he gets into the matrimony of the hunting field, among other nags, which always gets their danders up, it’s another pair of shoes altogether. Howsoever, if you know your horse, and can depend upon him, have a good understanding with yourself whether you mean to go over, before ever you come to a leap, in which case let a man throw his heart fearlessly over the fence, and follow it as quick as ever he can, and having got over the first fence, it’s astonishing how fearlessly he charges the next. Some take leaping powder, spirits of some sort, but it’s a contemptible practice, unworthy of any man (laughter.) Let every one do his best, and grind away as long as he can – at all events until either he or his horse tire, or he gets thrown out.

 “So I wish you good speed,
 A good line and a lead,
 With the last of the troop,
 My you hear the who-whoop,
 Well pleased as you hear tally ho.”

But now the violets are budding in every brake, and the bright blossoms of the primrose tell us that spring has come, and so we may bid our good steed rest – for at this season not a hair of Reynard’s beautiful head would we hurt for the world. So let us turn our trust hunter out to grass, to refresh himself and his legs, until we next need him, and when we have leisure for recreation, we shall find that summer affords us plenty of opportunity for healthy amusement of many kinds. And this year the County Kildare Cricket Club places cricket, lawn tennis, football, quoits, archery, rifle shooting, tent pegging, polo, and athletic sports, within the reach of every one. The object of this club is to provide grounds, and all other necessaries, for these popular pastimes; to bring together and create a friendly intercourse between all classes, and to try and keep many people at home during the summer who have hitherto had no inducement to remain. Athletic sports will be held about the middle of May, and a lawn tennis tournament has been fixed for the middle of July. Matches of all kinds have been arranged with other clubs; in fact no trouble will be spared to make the club grounds a pleasant resort for members, their friends, or visitors and all are requested to give this club their cordial support. But never neglect duty or business by so doing, and there will be all the more enjoyment in joining in sport and games. They give a healthy tone to the mind, and invigorate the body; for, though all play and no work give Jack a ragged shirt, still it is no less true that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy (applause).

[Compiled by Mario Corrigan; typed and edited by Carl Dodd]

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