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Westmeath Foxhounds

By Alan Magee
Very few Hunts can claim a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner among their ranks but the Westmeath Foxhounds have just such a star in the shape of 2006 hero War Of Attrition.

The former Mouse Morris-trained gelding, now a 13-year-old, is the regular mount of amateur rider and passionate hunting enthusiast Ciaran Murphy who explains, “War Of Attrition hunts most Saturdays, that’s his job now. He has the head for it, he’s real calm and absolutely loves it. He’s a bit different than most horses, a bit special.”

War Of Attrition
(© Healy Racing Photos)

The Mullingar-based rider adds gushingly, “He feels different to anything else you could ride. It’s a bit of an honour to be hunting him, and it’s great that he took to it so well. He’s a fair machine across the country.” The Presenting gelding is housed at Charlestown Stud, run by Murphy and trainer Dot Love, and goes back to owner Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud in the summer.

The Hunt covers a 30 mile radius around Mullingar, with plenty of natural grassland and walls to the south and west. “We have a lovely pack of hounds, and hunt all the young horses to give them experience,” explains Murphy before adding, “Young horses see so much in a day’s hunting which is a great education. When they go on to a point-to-point or the racecourse they just take it in their stride then.”

The Westmeath Foxhounds were formed in 1854 and meet twice a week on Wednesday and Saturday, with around 30 turning out mid-week and that number doubles on a Saturday. Like many Hunts around the country, there is a great family tradition in the “Westmeath” with the Guinness (descending from the brewing company) and Kiernan clans to the fore.

The Hon. Kieran Guinness is Chairman, while his nephew Sebastian is a joint-master. Other joint-masters are Wendy O’Leary, who occasionally partners War Of Attrition and is married to Gigginstown House Stud’s manager Eddie, and Dr Mark Mortell. The latter is accompanied in the Hunt by his wife Maria and daughter Alison.

Field-masters include Paddy Gavin and Helen Moorhead, while Huntsman James Lowry has Ciaran Murphy’s brother Noel among his whipper-in’s. A novel fund-raising initiative for a local cancer charity is the €10 donated by every faller in the Hunt throughout the year. It has reportedly raised quite a few euro!!!

Former point-to-point rider Sonya Kiernan acts as secretary, while her parents Frankie and Ita are the driving force behind the Castletown-Geoghegan point-to-point which is run under the auspices of the Westmeath Hunt.

Castletown-Geoghegan hosts two meetings a year, in the spring and autumn, and is a left-handed mile circuit with a steep downhill finish to the last fence that catches out plenty of horses. Jacksonslady, Backstage and Carrigeen Lechuga have all run at the venue in recent years.

Many improvements have taken place at the track including in recent times the erecting of permanent railing around the parade ring, and all white railing for both sides of the course. New aprons have also been fitted recently to the fences.

“In the last few years there has been huge progression on the track. It’s very much safety conscious, while there is a lot more comfort now for the riders with a new weigh-room,” said Murphy.

He adds, “A lot of the voluntary work for the point-to-point is carried out by hunt members. Ita Kiernan is the point-to-point secretary, and her husband Frankie would be the main organiser.

“He organises the fences with the help of his uncle Andrew, while hunt member Jack Flynn would also be part of the team. It takes a lot of work to make things happen, and hunt members would be very good on the day carrying out different duties such as fence stewards.”