Michael Watts MRCVS

They must be divils for punishment, those open coursing types.

Hare populations are under relentless pressure from intensive agriculture, with ground that once would have been left fallow over winter now ploughed as soon as the straw from the previous crop is baled and ryegrass monocultures for early silage replacing the hay meadows of yore.

(This is starting to sound like one of those “I mind well the time…” anecdotes that used to annoy me when in my youth auld fellahs used to inflict on me if I could not get offside in time, the ones where summers were longer, the girls were prettier and the beer tasted better. Am I starting to sound like those greybeards now? I am only fifty eight, for Pete’s sake. I digress)

Add to the damage done by changes in farming practice the effects of creeping urbanisation that shrouds more and more of the countryside in a concrete mantle. Then there are the ever more congested roads that crisscross the country and that are the last resting place of so much wildlife both fur and feather.

Finally there are the lurcher fraternity, the poachers and other human vermin who give no law and observe no close season but trespass at will and pursue anything that moves at any time of the day or better still at night. All in all it is a wonder there is a single hare left alive in some parts of the country and no surprise that the job of preserving and nurturing enough hares in the one parish or on two or three neighbouring farms to stage an open coursing meeting gets no easier.

In the circumstances therefore it comes as a bit of a surprise to learn that plans are well advanced for a new coursing stake to be run over open country.

Called the All Ireland Open Stake, this will be a collaborative venture involving all the nine Open clubs affiliated to the Irish Coursing Club not unlike the Earl of Dunraven Stake that was run at Clounanna in happier times. Each of the clubs will get to nominate one dog to run in the All Ireland. Any dog that has won or been beaten in the Open in any season will be eligible for selection. This means that it should not be possible for an unsporting owner to qualify a dog for the All Ireland by winning its first run upfield and then withdraw him to keep him fresh and sound for the main event.

The emphasis on form from past seasons might induce some owners to persevere with open coursing type dogs from one year to the next and break the mould of open meetings as the preserve of trail stake failures and trackers trying to rekindle their enthusiasm whose debuts over open country herald the twilight of their careers in the Winter Game. Any measure that promotes longevity in race dogs are reduces wastage even a little gets my vote any day. The only other stipulation is that to be eligible a greyhound must run in the same ownership that they were in on 1st December.

The event will be staged by Muster and Leinster clubs in alternate years. Following a ballot, the inaugural running to take place at the Roseberry meeting on 18th February ’18. For all those who are auld-fashioned enough to remember when a course was not a course without at least one turn, and the more turns the better, this is a date not to be missed. With the continuation of the mandatory muzzling that was introduced so successfully last season, the welfare of the hare will quite properly be to the fore at all times. “The righteous man regardeth the life of his beast” and all that.