On February 10, animal protection groups will protest outside Powerstown Park, Clonmel, on the opening day of the National Hare Coursing event.
It will not be the first such demonstration: The campaign to abolish hare coursing has been in progress for more than half a century since the foundation of the Irish Council Against Blood Sports (ICABS) in 1966.
Just this week, I came across a reminder of how long it is taking to win protection for the gentle Irish Hare.
In his book Ambiguous Republic-Ireland in the 1970s, historian Diarmuid Ferriter makes reference to the campaign in a chapter entitled ‘The Sporting Irish’.
He writes: “In 1973, the Council sought to take advantage of Conservation Year to get its message across about conserving wildlife; harrowing accounts of the torture and distress of the animals that were killed during coursing were also sent to the government. One account of a coursing meeting at Millstreet in County Cork in January 1974 reported on eighty-eight courses resulting in twenty kills.
“I saw the two greyhounds sink their teeth into the hare and twice it wriggled free, only to be snapped up again. It would cry out for several minutes until the men reached the dogs.
"Their main concern would be recapturing the greyhounds, then finally they would turn to the still living hare and give it a few belts over the head before handing it to a boy of about 13, who would again hit it, since it was still flinching.”
Nowadays coursing greyhounds are muzzled, a reform the government introduced in 1993 with the intention of alleviating the hare’s plight. The move came in response to the late Tony Gregory’s attempt to have coursing banned.
Unfortunately, muzzling only served to make the cruelty less visible. Now, instead of being stretched between competing dogs as in the 1974 fixture referred to above, hares are forcibly struck by the dogs, mauled, or have their bones crushed. Reports filed by rangers from the National Parks and Wildlife Service who attend a number of coursing events each season clearly show that hares continue to suffer horribly.
Even the ones that escape physically unscathed can die afterwards in the wild of stress-related ailments.
This vile practice should have had no place in the 20th century, let alone the 21st.
Will another fifty years have to pass before we consign and confine it to the history books?