Castleisland has a great tradition in animal sports. As far back as 1747, Castle-islanders got behind a five day horse-racing event for prizes of up to a ‘purse of 30 shillings’.
Day two of the event was to be run by ‘real hunters’ who had been at the death of two brace of foxes or four brace of hares.1
The sport of hunting game with greyhounds was of great interest to Michael O’Donohoe. The collection contains a series of admission cards to coursing meetings held in Kerry, Limerick and Clonmel for the period 1992 to 2001 with notes on the dogs.2
Coursing history in the district
On 1st April 1840, a great coursing match between Donoughmore and Kerry took place at the Crown-lands in Ballydesmond when ‘the best dogs in the south of Ireland’ were pitted. Kerry won triumphantly and in the evening, all dined together as ‘mirth, song and jocund laughter went round’.
Many had to return to Castleisland as ‘a bed could not be had for any price, even the farmer’s houses being crowded’.
A coursing club for Castleisland was proposed in 1854 at a meeting in the Crown Hotel. It followed a successful meet at Fahaduff and Currans, the property of Richard Chute Esq, ‘where the game was sufficiently abundant to run off in one day the largest entries in either Cork or Limerick clubs’.3
Some seventy years later, in 1924, a coursing club in Castleisland held a second meeting at a field ‘kindly placed at the disposal of the club by Mr T Thompson, Parknageeragh, perhaps the nicest coursing ground in Munster’. The hares, though ‘a strong looking lot, proved disappointing and died rather softly’.4
The Castleisland Coursing Club
In 1984, The Castleisland Coursing Club published a 42-pg booklet to celebrate its silver jubilee.5
It records how in the late 1920s, a coursing club was formed in Dysart, ‘most of its members being the energetic, enthusiastic local people’:
A very successful open meeting was held each Sunday during the Coursing Season … there were about 40 courses run at each of these meetings … in the 1940s the Open Coursing came to an end and an enclosed meeting was started by the Dysart Club … during the next few years many of the founder members of the Club passed away and interest in keeping the meeting going just lagged until it no longer existed.
Dysart Club Secretary, Tim Nelligan, recalled how game was acquired for the sport:
Our trip to net hares in Offaly is one looked forward to every year. Young and old from the club set off for the little village of Cloghan where a great relationship has developed between our members and those of the local gun club. The Offaly hares are big, strong animals and releasing them after our meeting has helped to considerably boost the hare population around Castleisland.
The Castleisland Coursing Club recently held its 57th annual meeting at Cahill Park, Tullig.
1 Dublin Journal, 25 July 1747. Evening entertainment was 'a ball' in the new assembly room. Subscriptions to John Blennerhassett the Younger, Esq of Tralee. A 32-page brochure, Rose of Tralee Ladies Race (circa 1997) sponsored by P J Carroll & Company Ltd is held in IE MOD/8. 2 It is also clear from a correspondence with the Irish Coursing Club that Michael suggested a scroll for Derby and Oaks winners. See IE Mod/40/40.2. 3 The dispersion of spectators however, made it 'impossible to come sufficiently near the hares so as to afford fair slipping'. Names of dogs included Monarch, Weasle, Dart, Fly and Chieftain. 'The course between Weasle and Fly was one of the best contested from the commencement, at Knocknaboul, the property of Edward Harnett Esq. The judge, A Benner Esq, was highly applauded for the general satisfaction his decisions afforded' (Tralee Chronicle, 28 April 1854). 4 The Kerryman, 23 February 1924. 5 IE Mod/40/40.4/40.4.1. Castleisland Coursing Club 28th & 29th October 1984 Silver Jubilee Souvenir Booklet (1984) to celebrate the club's silver jubilee (price 50p). Booklet contains images and a number of articles recollecting the history of the club. Another 40-pg booklet, An Evening at the Dogs in Kingdom Greyhound Stadium, Tralee, Friday 1st June 2001 for Cordal GAA Club held in IE Mod/40/40.5/40.5.2.