To Tano Neville, an advertising man and part-time farmer of Chester County, Pa., fox hunting has been a ruling passion for more than a quarter century, and when he saw a chance last winter to indulge in his favorite sport in Ireland, he seized it. By a happy coincidence, Photographer Toni Frissell had also recently finished riding to hounds in the same area. Though she was near Dublin, he farther south at Clonmel, their stories met in New York, and on the following pages they are combined to give a vivid picture of the eternally fascinating Irish hunting scene. Nowhere is its tradition and allure better exemplified than in this picture of the Meath Hunt (whose joint master, Charles S. Bird III, incidentally, is another impassioned American, from Boston) riding forth past the ruins of an ancient abbey to the first covert of the day.
'IT WAS FUN ALL THE WAY'
While Photographer Toni Frissell shows in pictures the course of a day's run with the Meath Hunt, Tano Neville describes his adventures with the Tipperary, Scarteen and other Irish hunts during his two weeks' stay.
Three things stand out in my memories of our fox-hunting trip to Ireland: the ruggedness of the hunting there, the mad pace of the activity and the boundless excitement of it. I have never known rougher riding. Brambles, thorns, branches tearing at our clothes, crazy changes in elevation with the horse alternately taking straight off like an ICBM or nose-diving off a bank and landing with a back-splintering thud.
Never a letup, something doing every minute, foxes galore and one run after another. And all this on a higher level of excitement than anything we do—the riders, old or young, male or female, charging impossible places, pushing their way through impenetrable thickets, taking desperate odds on a certain fall to keep up with the hounds. It was fun to be with them; it was fun all the way.
Of the four of us who took the trip, two were over 50, the other two over 60. In alphabetical order, there is first Ted Baldwin, dairy farmer, ex-professional ballplayer and one of the best men with a horse in America; then Jack Bausman, gentleman farmer and sportsman; next, Albert Nesbitt, industrialist, company director and civic leader; and, finally, myself. All of us ride with the Brandywine and Mr. Stewart's Cheshire Hounds in Chester County, Pa.
We stayed at Oaklands, near Clonmel, a lovely place run as a guest house by the Misses Cleeve, its owners. Vera Cleeve supervised the house with consummate artistry, saw to it that we ate royally, slept comfortably and had clean, dry clothes to wear every morning. This last was no mean feat. Ireland was wet and muddy, and we came in every evening covered with mud from head to foot, and usually soaked through with rich Irish mud as well.
Edith Cleeve supervised our hunting. She decided which packs we should go out with each day, and it was she who procured horses for us—one horse for each man for 12 successive days. Considering that there were hardly any livery stables left in that part of Ireland and that in consequence she usually had to hire from private owners, the arrival of four horses at each meet was a daily miracle. But we got good horses.
For our first day's hunting Edith Cleeve sent us out with the Tipperary hounds. A lawn meet—a meet at which we were invited into the house and offered a drink. Our host was Irish and his charming wife from, of all places, Oklahoma.
There were about 30 riders and probably as many on foot. Nesbitt met Brown Robin, a horse from which no hazard of bank or ditch could part him. Bausman met Seal, a grand old horse who took care of several of us during our stay, was never down, rarely made a mistake and stayed sound throughout a series of tough days which injured at one time or another almost every other horse we had. Baldwin met his "little horse"—I don't know whether he even had a name—who carried him wonderfully this day but went less well on subsequent days, either because he tired or because his basic greenness eventually showed through. I had Ned-dins, an enormous gray with large "gray-horse tumors" behind his ears. Despite his size, Neddins could jump like a cat, but he was too big and fat to gallop for long.
The first covert was drawn blank, a rare happening, but the next held a fox, and our Irish fox hunting began. A minute or two on a hard road, then onto a dirt road, then up a driveway and out into the fields—little, three-to five-acre Irish fields, 90% of them grass and all of them running water. The fields had an inch or two of slop, but underneath that there was hard ground. So the horses were sliding around but not sinking in enough to exhaust themselves—actually, it was grand galloping country. And it was that way every day—we squelched our way across Ireland, every step, a noise I will always remember.