Eoin Marsh looks at the ever contentious topic of hunting in Ireland
Animal welfare has and always will be a point of contention and just discussion for mankind. It is not merely a discussion on how we treat our organic brethren but also as a way to how we discuss the treatment of each other as individuals. To be frank I am a huntsman by birth (though some will join the sport for the thrill of the hunt itself). I was born into a family of huntsmen, and due to the nature of Irish family traditions I too joined in the sport. It is from this position of being a participant that I wish to enlighten non-participants to the joys of following the pack in full cry. It is a past-time that has recently come under siege and its reputation dirtied by particularly vocal parts of the nation.
Firstly it should be said that hunting is a tradition that has existed in the Irish countryside for generations upon generations, and sadly due to the growth in urban populations, is being forgotten for its qualities other than pest-control; namely the social opportunities, and the benefits to one’s mental as well as physical health. In this very time where national, social and political boundaries are being broken down (for the better) so much is being abandoned and becoming forgotten and never seen again. It is an activity which not only provides joy for countless numbers but also provides an extra source of revenue into the Irish landscape in these harsh economic waters. It is in this light that I say as an Irish tradition hunting is performed by those who do not wish to cause harm to other individuals, and who seek to simply to enjoy their sport. While it could be said ‘why do they simply not try out a different sport?’, I must say that hunting is beyond the point of being a sport in that for many it is a way of life, and their very means of existence. I know of many individuals who being close to triple my age still enjoy and active lifestyle simply because they have a reason to remain active; be it in the full-on participation of the hunt or following on foot & vehicle. To this end hunting can be shown to improve many older people’s living standard well above what they would enjoy otherwise, enjoying the community spirit created by such an endeavour as well as life-long friendships with local farmers.
No discussion about hunting can be said to be complete without a moral analysis of animal welfare. I wish to simply say that hunting is not just mindless foray into bloodlust and debauchery. I maintain that any fox worth his salt that is neither old nor sick (i.e. a perfectly healthy specimen) will be able to continue with ease (the fox shown in the example picture I can verify got away quite safely…and fairly easily). In contrast to the life of the fox, free and healthy surviving as nature intended, is the life of the simple modern day chicken. An interesting creature, the modern chicken is currently a staple part of many westerner’s diet, with many Irish families (especially in these harsh economic times) consuming factory-bred birds twice a week if not more. The lifestyle of these birds can be described as nothing short of a life of continuous torture: at birth having their beaks ‘blunted’ by a device similar to the cigarette lighter in older cars so that in their cramped conditions fewer birds will be murdered and subsequently cannibalised by their fellow cage-dwellers. Pumped full of growth hormones and accelerants so as to reduce their ‘maturing time’ to 45 days they eventually reach a point where they have been force-fed long enough that they cannot walk and simply lie there constantly in their own refuse, only to face the aspiration of being ‘processed’ and finally sold in your local super-market. Now given the choice between an animal that has an experience of freedom and natural life and one who is destined from birth to be nothing more than another item on Gordon Ramsay’s cooking show at best I know which lifestyle I would choose.
To finish, I recognise that many people will not agree with my opinions and my enjoyment of the sport, I simply hope that others will remove their prejudice they feel for the sport from me as a person. For it can be said that ‘You judge a democratic nation not on its history, not on its economic output neither on international contributions, but on how the democratic system itself treats the rights of the minorities within its Borders’. Quite simply no man, be it huntsman, soccer player, musician or scholar, wishes to have their lives dominated by the will of others.